He wasn’t entirely conscious when he came to.

He’d been gone. Whether he was dead or unconscious, we’ll never know — but he woke up in the back of a Floyd Medical Center ambulance with a Rome police officer asking him if he knew where he was.

They’d saved his life.

The guy had come to the back parking lot of the newspaper to give a friend a can of dip and, apparently, decided to take something.

That decision put him down, hard.

They pulled him out of his car and gave him a dose of Narcan spray — a brand name for naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid but not other drugs. In this case, it was used to reverse what would have been the fatal effects of an overdose.

This guy lived, and he’s a lucky one. If local authorities hadn’t recognized the severity of this epidemic and decided to equip their people with life-saving measures, a lot more people would be dead.

By quickly getting naloxone to a person suffering from an opioid overdose — such as from heroin, hydrocodone or fentanyl — the person is much less likely to die or suffer long-term brain or tissue damage.

First responders — police, firefighters and EMS — are all equipped with this spray because of the rise of opioids in this area.

It’s not just here. This problem is nationwide.

In a case we’ve been watching from afar, four men from Bartow County had been smuggling methamphetamine as well as fentanyl, a particularly powerful opioid. They’d learned that they’d make more money by smuggling drugs from Georgia to West Virginia, where they’d fetch a bigger price and larger profit.

When they got busted, it wasn’t the amount of drugs they’d been moving that got them a lot of attention — it was a particularly callous decision.

One day in a West Virginia hotel room a 20-year-old woman who’d been with these guys, overdosed. Prosecutors said one of the men took her to a bathtub in the room to cool her down. It didn’t work and she died.

They couldn’t or wouldn’t call police.

Instead, they decided to dismember Courtney DuBois’ body and dump it in Cartersville.

It’s sad on a lot of levels. It’s sad because her death was easily preventable. It’s sad because this was a young woman who had a lot of life left to live. It’s sad because a mother and a father had to experience that loss. It’s sad because of the callous disregard for life involved in the entire thing.

But there’s a lesson we can learn from a very sad situation.

Call 911, even if you’re dirty

Those are just two stories of what can happen when a person overdoses. There are so many more, and many of them we’ll never hear.

In a crazy situation people can come up with a lot of excuses to not call 911. Some people are afraid they’ll get in trouble, or they’ll go to jail, or their probation will get revoked.

Georgia law has limited protections from prosecution for those reporting or suffering from an overdose. The protections are primarily placed so a person who otherwise could face criminal charges will not, if they’re helping another person.

Essentially, the law protects those who call 911 to report an overdose, as well as those suffering from the overdose, from arrest for having possession of small amounts of illegal drugs or alcohol.

So, if a person is in medical trouble and underage drinkers try to get that person medical help, there are some protections under the law.

The law even gives certain protections for those who are on probation or parole who are attempting to seek medical assistance for a person or are themselves suffering from an overdose.

Georgia law is fairly clear — it’s more important to save that person’s life than prosecute small drug and alcohol cases.

Human costs

We’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating — In 2019, first responders administered over 200 doses of Narcan. As of October 2019, the spray had been used by Rome and Floyd County police officers over 40 times and by Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center EMS over 170 times.

When we talk about our opioid epidemic we often talk about the financial costs associated with it, and there are a lot.

There are so many factors to derive the actual cost from the epidemic we’re experiencing. There’s the cost of hiring additional police officers, of addiction counselors, of treating newborns dependent on opioids, of treating overdoses ... the list goes on and on.

But there’s the humanity factor that can’t be easily evaluated for cost.

There is the family that loses a loved one who made bad choices. There is the police officer who finds the body of an overdose victim. There is the child born with an addiction who can’t understand why they’re in so much pain as their body suffers from drug withdrawals.

Much of this has been caused by legal drugs, and what lawsuits describe as deceptive practices by legal opioid manufacturers. There are so many stories about how the addictive and lethal qualities of these drugs were swept under the rug by pharmaceutical companies.

It’s a shame but we’re going to be paying the price for the irresponsible behavior that got us here for some time. At the same time, let’s work to keep our humanity intact.

People often turn to addiction in an attempt deal with pain — physical and emotional. We need to step past the stigma of the addict and emphasize as well as reward the ability to overcome that addiction. If given the chance, people can change. And if given encouragement, they can change for the better.

Thank you for reading.

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