'Like raising Lazarus from the dead'

Narcan nasal spray allows victims literally to rise from the dead.

ASHLAND — Local emergency medical technicians have been administering Narcan so frequently in recent months that they can't even count the number of doses they've used.

But one emergency clearly stands out in Ashland EMT David Rekemeyer's memory.

"It was at a patient's house and he had overdosed on pain meds prescribed for someone else," Rekemeyer said. "When they hit, he had his foot caught in rocks around a fire and he fell into the fire. When we administered Narcan, it was like raising Lazarus back from the dead."

As of April, the state had recorded 372 opioidrelated deaths, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, which didn't have more recent statistics. But there's no way to measure the number of Lazaruses out there — patients who have died and been revived by cops, EMTs, first-responders or others on the growing list of people who keep Narcan handy.

Rekemeyer said he and his colleagues are bringing people back from the dead just about every other week, sometimes daily.

"Yeah, it really is that bad," Rekemeyer said.

When a person overdoses on heroin, fentanyl or other opioids, the drugs slow down and eventually stop their breathing, Rekemeyer's partner Brian Best said.

The Narcan in wide use today doesn't even require an injection – it's a nasal spray, which gets the antidote into the bloodstream almost immediately. Narcan essentially acts as an opioid antagonist that knocks the opioid molecule off receptors in the brain, Rekemeyer said.

After they administer it, EMTs are advised to stand back quick because they might have another antagonist on their hands when the patient revives.

"You just woke them up from sleeping and take away their high," Best said.

"It's like waking up from a dead sleep and there's someone standing over you," Rekemeyer added.

Rekemeyer and Best try to remember that their patients aren't rational and if they lash out, it's not personal.

"They're high as hell and they don't even know they've overdosed," Rekemeyer said. "You have to tell them, 'You've overdosed. Your heart stopped. We did CPR and Narcan so here you are.' So there's often a lot of raw emotion and they're scared because they don't know what's happening."

In fact, one dose of Narcan isn't always enough — especially with ever-more-potent drugs hitting local streets.

"There's a drug out there now called carfentanil. Those are often in other things or laced in other drugs. Sometimes there isn't enough Nar can in the world to reverse that," Rekemeyer said with a sigh.

Carfentanil is used by veterinarians to tranquilize elephants and bears, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. It's 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl, which is so deadly that just a few grains can kill.

While it's gratifying to watch patients come back from the dead, it's also difficult to see so many of them — especially in a small town. Both Rekemeyer and Best have revived people they've encountered around town — sometimes they watched the victim play basketball just the week before they overdosed.

"There's no rhyme or reason," Best said, shaking his head.

More and more frequently, Best and Rekemeyer have had to revive victims who have overdosed and been brought back to life before. Some people ask the EMTs why they even bother.

That's not our decision to make," Rekemeyer said. "We'll administer Narcan and do what we need to do."

Rekemeyer and Best said they need all the help they can get to help battle the epidemic that has been devastating the area.

"(I) would like to give a shout out to the deputies and police officers here. Often they're the first ones in the house. They recognize what's going on and they administer Narcan before we even get there," Rekemeyer said.

Ashland Police officer Chris Pupp said he's been that first person in several times.

"It's a good feeling to have to tools and ability to help someone out," he said. "If we didn't have the Narcan and couldn't administer that, things would be totally different. It's good to have that."

That feeling of satisfaction is one of the main reasons Rekemeyer enjoys his job — even with al the tragedies he experiences.

"It makes a difference in people's lives in a an immediately dangerous situation. It's not always that, but sometimes you really can give somebody a second chance," he said.

(Copyright © 2022 APG Media)

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