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Paramedics On The Front Lines Of Minnesota's Overdose Boom

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - As paramedics get ready for the start of their shift, they will tell you they need to be prepared for absolutely anything.

That of course includes drug overdoses, which lately in the Twin Cities have kept them especially busy.

"In 13 years, I've been on a fair share of overdoses," said Nicholas Lesch, paramedic and operations supervisor with Fairview Health Services.

READ MORE: Behind The Scenes With DEA Agents Tracking Overdose Sources

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension recently reported 170 overdoses across the Twin Cities over a two week span. The victim died in 17 of those cases.

On June 1 in South St. Paul, three Fairview ambulances were part of the response to a home in which six people were suspected of overdosing on drugs. All of them needed Narcan, the drug that reverses the effects of opioids. An officer on scene had to be hospitalized due to exposure.

"No scene is definitely safe. There's no guarantee," said Lesch.

Exposure can happen from touching needles, which are often used to inject drugs.

"We need to be aware of what may be sitting around and maybe not sit or stand in a certain spot because we don't want to sit on somebody's couch or chair because it could be dirty, contaminated, there might be something hidden, a needle we may not see," said Lesch.

He says they have to make slow, deliberate motions in order to carefully know what they're grabbing or moving. Using Narcan on patients has its own concerns, especially if first responders administer too high of a dose. It could lead to the patient vomiting once they awaken.

READ MORE: 'That's Astronomical': Minneapolis Police Respond To 65 Overdose Calls In 9 Days

"That could be that liquid exposure to the face. You could get it in your mouth or your eyes," he said. "That can be significant because we don't know who that individual is and what they might be struggling with on a daily basis."

It's why they keep water bottles and saline solution handy in the ambulance to rinse off. They also have scrubs to wear in case a paramedic needs to remove their uniform.

It is all part of the risk they face every day, at times putting their lives on the line to save the lives of others.


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