HUNTSVILLE, Ala (WHNT) — Huntsville Hospital is seeing an increase in people who have overdosed, coming through the Emergency Department, according to Dr. Sherrie Squyres, the department’s director.
“Now, we are seeing more than ever,” Dr. Squyres said of the overdose patients. “It is a true crisis.”
The director said a lot of the people who are being brought in for overdoses have fentanyl in their system. She said fentanyl “has gotten cheaper and cheaper” and “there is plenty of that stuff on the street.”
This comes as law enforcement warns of an increase in dangerous drugs, including fentanyl, in Madison County.
HEMSI, which is one of the largest ambulance services in Huntsville, told News 19 has been overwhelmed by overdose calls so far this year.
Dr. Squyres said her department at Huntsville Hospital is not only caring for people brought in by HEMSI but also for other ambulance services and people who are dropped off. She said the ER is getting busy, and wait times are being impacted.
“EDs [emergency departments] are struggling these days, and we’re challenging, I mean we have longer waits in our emergency department than we like,” she said.
“We’re starting to try to treat people in the lobby while they’re waiting” she continued. “You’ll come in and you have to see a provider that will help to screen you, or order your labs all while you’re sitting out in the lobby because so many people are waiting to go upstairs to beds.”
However, she alluded to Huntsville not being alone in the battle against drugs.
“Most emergency departments in the country, like ours, are struggling a bit these days and our goal is to provide medical care for whoever needs it, including these people, but it does put a burden on the entire medical system,” she said. “It’s such a waste because these are predominately young people who could have productive lives.”
Dr. Squyres said a lot of factors can lead to drug use and eventual overdose; however, she wants to promote treatment for people to get help before it’s too late.
“There are a lot of treatment options out there, even for people without a lot of resources,” she said.
One resource in the Huntsville community, is the Partnership for a Drug Free Community. It offers many resources, including Certified Peer Support Specialists.
Laura Edwards is one of those specialists.
She shared that she has overdosed twice in her life. Most recently, in 2013.
She said the best part of what she has gone through in the past, is being able to use her experience to help others.
“Because of my history and past experience, I can relate to just about anybody who is going through that struggle, and share my experience, strength, and hope,” Edwards said. “I feel like my purpose in life is to provide hope to the hopeless because I was once hopeless and someone provided me hope, and if I hadn’t had that, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
Edwards said she’s also noticed the recent uptick in overdoses in the community.
“You know, not that long ago, I was on social media and it felt like every day I would wake up to a new friend or acquaintance that had overdosed and passed away,” she said.
Nicholas Loftin is another one of the peer support specialists. While living out of state in the past, he overdosed, and ended up hospitalized. Like Edwards, he now uses his experience to talk with people who need support.
He said there can be a stigma against people dealing with drug addiction and wants the community to treat people in recovery or who are dealing with addiction, just like you would anyone else battling an illness.
“My biggest thing when I talk with people who aren’t in recovery, and like how do you know, treat people who are in addiction or are actively using, is just to use compassion,” he said. “Just like you would any human being with any sort of other illness.”
He continued, “it’s not a matter of choice, it’s a sickness in the mind that centers in the body.”
Both Dr. Squyres and the peer support specialists agree that drug addiction and drug overdoses can happen to anyone.
“This is not just a problem for poverty-stricken people, I mean this is a problem that crosses all economic and all social categories,” Dr. Squyres said.
Edwards gave a similar statement.
“We’re a group of people that normally wouldn’t mingle is what I have learned, but we all have one common problem, and It’s a disease,” she said. “It doesn’t make us bad people.”
If you or someone you know is looking for resources, contact the Partnership for a Drug-Free Community at 256-539-7339. If it is an emergency, dial 911.