Huntsville Hospital ER chief agrees with President’s declaration of opioid ‘public health emergency’

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- President Donald Trump’s declaration Thursday calling America’s opioid problem a “public health emergency,” underlines what Huntsville health care providers and first responders have been facing in growing numbers.

Dr. Sherry Squyres, medical director for the Huntsville Hospital Emergency Room, said more than 100 people a day are dying from opioid-related problems.

"It absolutely is a public health emergency," she said.

In Madison County, the hospital is seeing about one overdose death a week and serious addiction.

“We get some of them in here that are unresponsive, that we give the antidote … and they wake up and immediately they want to go out and use again, even though we tell them, 'You died,'” Squyres told WHNT News 19. “You know, you could have died if we hadn’t been right there or you hadn’t been resuscitated.”

Squyres said the problem doesn’t discriminate by zip codes and that it’s starting with people much younger than is assumed.

“You see the ones that do get addicted because they were started on them for a legitimate reason, but, what we see a lot of is people that get prescription medications that are not prescribed to them,” Squyres said.

HEMSI Chief Operating Officer Don Webster said his EMS crews used 40 doses of lifesaving overdose drug Narcan from July to September. He said the problem has grown over the past three years.

“There’s got to be a better way and somehow to get education to these people, to know that it’s going to kill ‘em,” Webster said. “And it doesn’t take a long time to do that.”

The Trump declaration doesn’t include additional federal money for states and health care providers, but Squyres said additional money would be welcome. Squyres said more money could save lives.

“Narcan, the antidote that you can give to someone who has overdosed and is in a life-threatening situation, needs to be more accessible, and the sad thing is it needs to be more accessible to addicts and their families,” she said.

And those struggling with addiction, often have nowhere to turn for help for treatment.

“We need more availability, and a lot of these people don’t have resources,” Squyres said. “I mean they have lost their jobs, lost their insurance, they don’t have the ability to seek care that requires payment.”

Squyres said educating parents and young people about the dangers of the drugs has to be a priority, but she fears the battle is far from over.

“We have a really long way to go because so far we just haven’t made an impact,” Squyres said. “And the scary thing is that once these people become so addicted, they don’t seem to care about the risks.”