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Firefighters rethink how they do their job during opiate crisis

The City of Columbus spent $1 million on a new rapid response team with paramedics, nurses and drug counselors. Those teams will meet overdose patients and their family at the hospital to immediately connect them with treatment. (WSYX/WTTE)

New numbers from the Franklin County coroner painted a grim picture for how the opiate crisis has hit Central Ohio. The coroner said the number of people dying from a drug overdose is nearly double what it was a year ago. The spike in overdoses has caused Columbus firefighters to rethink how they do their jobs.

The coroner said 268 people died of a drug overdose from January 1st to June 30th. In 2016 that number was 143.

"I would tell (my son), 'I don't want to come home and find you dead Jake,'" said Phyllis Ricketts. "Jake said, 'Mom I don't want you to.'"

Ricketts found her son dead from an overdose in their West Columbus home in March. He was 24-years-old.

"He loved everything and everyone," she said. "There was only one thing in life Jake did hate, the demon heroin."

The high demand for emergency treatment has put a heavy burden on firefighters.

"The Division of Fire currently has the wrong name," said Columbus Fire Chief Kevin O'Connor. "We are the Division of EMS. We do a little fire on the side."

O'Connor said firefighters used to respond to about 12 overdose emergencies a month. Now firefighters respond to about 12 a day. The Division of Fire has added six medics to keep up with all the overdoses. The City of Columbus spent $1 million on a new rapid response team with paramedics, nurses and drug counselors. Those teams will meet overdose patients and their family at the hospital to immediately connect them with treatment.

"We can take you to the hospital a thousand times but that doesn't cure your problem," O'Connor said. "Treatment is what's going to treat your problem."

In the meantime, O'Connor said firefighters started training people how to use Naloxone, the opiate antidote.

The coroner said 80 percent of the drug overdose deaths were from opiates. More than half of those were attributed to Fentanyl.

"We're losing a while generation of our children with this," Ricketts said. "I don't want my son Jake and all these other parents that have lost their Beautiful children to just be a number because Jake was way more than just a number."

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