Deadly drug crisis hits Kentucky, with overdoses up by a third

Cordelia Lynch, US Correspondent

In Louisville, Kentucky, America's deadliest drugs crisis is exhausting those trying to respond to it.

Mike Will, a paramedic and supervisor with Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Service, is often the first man at the scene of a suspected overdose.

Within 15 minutes of filming with him, he's called to one. His team is dealing with up to 50 a day.

The opioids epidemic is gripping this city. Many who started on prescription painkillers, are now hooked on heroin. Some are mixing both.

Mike puts the sirens on and we dash across town. It's a race against time. He says they have a 6 minute window before brain damage can set in.

We pull up to the house on a busy corner. There are police cars, a fire engine and ambulance already at the scene. Neighbours are looking on, drivers are stopping traffic to look.

Mike has no idea what's he's going to be confronted with. Inside, he asks his colleagues, "Any problems ventilating? Is there paraphernalia in here?"

The team is calm, coordinated and fast. Then, moments later, relief. A man who looked like he's in his thirties emerges on a stretcher. He's pale and gaunt, his body exposed in the afternoon sun. But he's alive.

Mike sees many who don't make it. Young children playing nearby, watch with confused eyes. This is one of the poorer neighbourhoods, but Mike says he's called everywhere, from "mansions to ghettos."

This epidemic doesn't discriminate and this was a striking portrait of a grim reality that's become a daily occurrence.

In a wealthy suburb, I meet Elizabeth. She's 35, articulate and warm. But for 20 years, she's been addicted to opioids.

She says it started with Oxycontin, a painkiller she first took it as a teenager with friends. She thought it was safer than alcohol or marijuana. But it devastated her hometown of Pikeville in the east of Kentucky.

Her grandfather and the state of Kentucky sued Purdue Phrama in 2007, the manufacturer of the prescription drug dubbed "hillbilly heroin" for misleading the public about its dangers. The case was settled for $24 million.

But after rehab, Beth has ironically found hope in another drug, Vivitrol. Doctors say one injection of it, once a month can block out the euphoria addicts experience and stop them wanting to get high in the first place.

At Our Lady of Peace hospital, they're in their first month of administering it. It's not a silver bullet and it costs around $1000.

But pharmacist Steve Cummings tells me it's better than the £10,000 it costs when an addiction programme fails. They feel hopeful and it's only the second programme of its kind in the country.

This week President Trump took notice of the crisis. He established a new task force to tackle the opioids epidemic.

The details of exactly what it'll do is still unclear. But many I spoke too, say it is long overdue. Thousands of lives could depends on it.

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