Heroin costing Hamilton County residents more than ever before

(Andres Rodriguez / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

HAMILTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVC) - More drug overdose calls are flooding police and emergency medical services in Hamilton County than ever before.

The Hamilton County EMS director, Ken Wilkerson, says a drug overdose can happen using prescribed prescription drugs or illegal drugs.

He says lately the number of calls his crews are responding to related to opiates like heroin are going up.

While ambulances are tied up treating those patients, Wilkerson says residents might have to wait longer if they have an emergency.

Aaron Smith says he's been addicted to heroin for 15 years and counting.

Two months into being clean, Smith found out his battle with the drug had hit his little brother David, too.

"Nobody expected it from him," Smith said. "They always expected it from me, but not him."

Family members found David in bed in Memphis three weeks ago, with a needle stuck in his arm.

He never woke up.

"He was a good guy. He had two kids. He worked his tail off," Aaron said. "He was just all around good guy. Like I said, just made bad decisions that cost him his life."

It's a problem that's everywhere -- in Hamilton County, suspected heroin overdoses now kill three to five people every week, according to Hamilton County EMS.

"I don't know how they are going to end it," Smith said. "I have no clue because there is so much money to be made off of it."

While drug lords are reeling in that money, Wilkerson says taxpayers are shelling it out, trying to keep addicts alive.

He says the county is spending more and more money stocking a drug called "Narcan." It's a drug that reverses an overdose with a puff up a patient's nose. Each dose costs around $40.

Wilkerson says the department has used 60 percent more Narcan on patients this year than last year to date. That's costing county residents.

"Any time a Hamilton County ambulance responds on a call you are looking for a $500, $600 or $700 investment of county funds for every call we respond on," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson says his department is working to train fire and law enforcement officers to be able to administer Narcan.

He says Hamilton County is also requesting more money to upgrade equipment.

Smith says in Chattanooga, it's easiest to buy heroin from dealers in the motels off of Shallowford Road.

Vanita Hullander is the Catoosa County coroner. She says the high potency of today's heroin is what's leading addicts who don't live in Hamilton County to die there.

"They want their fix so bad, they are not getting back home with it," Hullander said. "They are doing it the moment they get it. Then before they get home, they are overdosing."

Those who do make it to the hospital, she says, are often marked as a patient with a mental emergency or behavior issues -- not a drug overdose.

That means the overdose numbers are even higher than we think.

"We can't even chip a piece off of an iceberg. There is so much lost data that way," Hullander said.

Smith says his life is forever changed without his brother. Even his daily routine -- assuring his mother that he's staying clean.

"She calls me non-stop now. Non-stop. I will probably hear from her 10 to 12 times a day just to make sure if I am OK," he said.

The thought of using again crosses his mind often, but he must stay strong for her.

"As long as I stick with who I am supposed to stick with and do what I'm supposed to do I should be alright," Smith said.


NewsChannel 9 now has a special section on our website for anyone seeking help for heroin addiction.

You can find the Hooked on Heroin news tab here.

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