iForum: Heroin or Hero-in?

By Amalio Jusino Guest Column
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I sit alone finally writing about a subject that I have remained silent about due to my profession and what potentially may be a perception that not everyone agrees with. That being said, I expect criticism, I expect to be called an idiot or told that I don't know what I am talking about. I assume that many will believe it is impossible or that it will never work or that I am just living a fantasy.

Regardless of anyone's response, please know now that if this writing sparks a thought, an action or creates a new circumstance for someone to better themselves, well than my words were not completely presented in vain.

My parents raised me to practically find the good in any circumstance, to see things for what they actually were and not to be a victim of social perception. Therefore, I have grown to believe that problems are not as big as the individuals involved with creating them, but only as big as the group of people needed to improve them. This is a quote of mine that I hope is published somewhere and shared forever!

As many of you know I work as a paramedic and have a history in fire service and law enforcement. I also own a consulting company that assists organizations with hazard mitigation, grant funding and a variety of other things.

In the big picture, who cares what I do or have done, except for the fact that we as a community, a region, a state and even as a nation have been told that we have an epidemic on our hands and people are dying.

What, you ask? Heroin, a recreational drug for the transcendent relaxation and intense euphoria it induces. It is interesting to know that anthropologist Michael Agar once described heroin as "the perfect whatever drug." Many would agree, I assume.

Heroin: the only item in 24 years of responding to emergency calls that appears to impact me.

Heroin: the only type of call that initially created a level of anxiety in newer responders and now has turned into a routine call with a systematic process for the best efforts to save a life.

Heroin: a tangible object of known deadly consequences still played with like a child in a bouncy house — you just can't get enough.

Heroin: that item injected into the body only to create a higher tolerance resulting in increased dosages to achieve the same high.

Heroin: the drug that is just never good enough and is now mixed/cut/blended or whatever ridiculous term is used to justify the "quality."

Heroin: the first drug to change the term "bad batch" to not true, my friend, it is a very good batch.

No, I am not a user, I am just a paramedic responding to these calls, saving these lives and sometimes working so diligently to save a life with unsuccessful results. Yes, that's correct, we try hard on everyone and sometimes we fail. I know, many just said it is not our fault, but that is not how we as responders are wired and although that lifeless body lays before us with tubes sticking out of its mouth, medications being given, IVs placed and cardiac monitors beeping all around as we place our hands on their chest to perform CPR feeling the sweaty skin hoping that we can bring life back, we still question if we did everything 100 percent correctly.

At the moment we realize there is nothing else we can do to save the life, we look up at each other shake our heads and hope that we are able to get cleaned up, back in service and ready for the next one.

First, though, you have to listen to that family member cry, scream, yell, pray and look into your eyes shaking your shoulders begging and pleading for you to save their son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother. Close your lips, put your head down, place a hand on their shoulder and say you're sorry.

Remember, this person was not always classified as an addict, in fact that person was the same person in the baby photo, class picture, graduation photo. They are someone's loved one regardless of the moment.

This is that moment when I know someone reading this is saying, "the hell with them, they made the choice."

We have all been there, it is a coping mechanism, it helps us move on and it is generated by the consistent, repeat occurrences that ultimately anger us. In case any of you forgot, we are human, too.

People, we have an epidemic on our hands so we are told. As a result, we are focusing on the individual user who overdoses or reaches out for help and we attempt to rehabilitate him or her. We spend millions of dollars that are meant to be allocated to bring together community groups to combat this issue. We have individuals who have been more effective at this community outreach and notification process than some of the "funded" groups.

I ask people to think about this for a moment - are we truly focusing on correcting the problem. I ponder the reason why we are trying to correct an epidemic overnight that took a generation to create. I know that there has been success with isolated incidents and individuals. I also know that I personally have saved the same person five times after finding them not breathing.

I don't believe that the interventions for the addict are the primary area that needs to be focused on. I don't mean ignore them at all — give them all the help they need — but we need to broaden it. We need to change a generation!

We as a group, a society, a region, a community need to become bigger than the perceived problem.

Remember, a problem is only as big as the number of people needed to correct it not the number of people causing it. If it grows we need to grow or it wins and at this rate if it wins then look around at your loved ones because statistically one or more of them will not be here in the near future.

I hate to say this, but we are not going to correct this immediately, those things that immediately impact this problem are crisis centers to avoid that single potential overdose, an effective seizure of drugs from law enforcement, increased training and rapid response from EMS and togetherness with nonusers.

The long-term things that need to be done are different. We need to change a generation, we need to let kids be kids again, we need to slow down and live, we need to interact and communicate verbally and not through email, texts and Snapchat. We need to be parents again instead of best friends. My mother and father were not my best friends, but they became that after learning wrong from right. We need to create confidence, value and pride in the children of today.

A shallow comment, but I sometimes wonder with the immense closeness it takes to create a human, why then do we never carry a level of closeness to raise them. We once did, but today it is nonstop, here and there and everywhere we are racing. I thought it was amazing the other day I was speaking with a client and she stated that she needed to go have dinner with her husband and children and would call me back after, but no phones were allowed during family dinner.

We need to start coming together to change a generation! Have you ever thought how odd it is that we educate adults about the impacts of drugs after they received CPR, like they couldn't figure it out after their chest was killing them and they awake in the hospital, but we don't have any formal drug intervention in our school system?

We had great DARE officers years ago, yes, I was one of them and there was nothing greater than working with those children. No, it did not stop them all from using drugs, but I guarantee it made a difference in many children's life because they have told me, they have shared the stories and they are successful today, not by how much money or fame they have, but because they are drug free.

In closing, I could go on forever, but maybe someday I will be speaking in a school or at a public venue with children, families, drug users, drug addicts and rehabilitated individuals. This in no way is to dismiss the efforts being presented to each and every community to tackle this problem. In discussions with individuals throughout the community I wonder why emergency service agencies are not asked to participate in such discussions. To be the first face, voice or comforting touch after being revived with CPR usually results in some pretty in-depth honest conversation.

If you truly care, if you truly want to make a difference than I ask all of you to change heroin to "HERO-IN."

Be the hero-in someone's life, be the hero-in a child's decision-making process, be the hero-in reaching out to our youth so we can change a generation. Become the hero-in a heroin user's life, be the activity, be the voice of reason, be the intervention, be the building block, but most important be the hero-in someone.

We idolize all sorts of things, children find hero-in sports, hero-in firefighters, hero-in EMS, hero-in soldiers.

It's time for change, be parents not best friends, there is a difference and be the Hero-in a new generation to make a difference.

Just an FYI, and 100 percent the truth, in the midst of writing this, I was called away at 12:09 a.m. and responded to a heroin overdose with the crew of North Adams Ambulance and the Police Department. It is now 12:58 a.m., we saved another one!

God Bless You All and always think about that HERO-IN YOU!

Amalio Jusino is a paramedic with North Adams Ambulance Service.

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Tags: drug abuse,   emergency services,   EMT,   heroin,   

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