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Paramedics see increase in opioid overdoses: 'We're used to seeing the worst'

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Paramedics in Multnomah County responded to 700 opioid overdoses in 2017.

AMR paramedic Leah Gordon say these calls are now routine.

“My partner and I had two today in 10 hours,” said Gordon. “When we run these calls, we're used to seeing the worst of the worst, the good, bad and the ugly.”

Gordon has been with AMR for three years.

“I think when I first started I was surprised by how much heroin and opioid overdoses were happening,” she said.

“There's definitely something to be said about reviving someone and having a conversation with them and giving them a new outlook and weigh in on them getting help,” she continued.

There's an emotional toll that comes with this unique intimacy.

Paramedics carry a drug called naloxone, more commonly known as NARCAN.

It reverses the opioid effects, and proves vital when seconds mean the difference between a life lost or a life saved.

“If it's a known heroin overdose or opioid overdose and they're unresponsive and not breathing, that's probably 90 percent of the calls and it's pretty critical we get there,” said Leah’s partner, Howard.

“I don't know if it's different kinds of drugs or the strength of the heroin coming in, a lot of times we don't know what they're taking because we just find them unresponsive,” Howard said.

While Leah and Howard may be on the front lines saving lives - that's just the first step.

“Trying to say ‘hey, we found you, you weren't breathing, your family was very distraught, we got you, let's get you to the hospital to get you the help that you need,’” said Gordon.

Oregon and Washington both recently passed laws that allow people who aren't medical professionals to administer NARCAN.

Paramedics say this will also help in the fight to save lives.

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