On the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic: Inside the ER

Front Lines Of The Opioid Epidemic

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Doctors and nurses in the emergency room are on the front lines, working to save people from car crashes, gunshots and drug overdoses. 

NBC Charlotte was granted unprecedented access to a local emergency room to experience a day in the life of these real-world heroes as they battle the problem the opioid crisis is creating for so many young people. 

Kristen Steinhaus sees it all. Every day, night and on holidays. 

“After I came out here, we received a patient that arrived. Unfortunately, they passed away this morning,” she said. 

Steinhaus is the assistant nurse manager of Novant Health Presbyterian’s Emergency Department. 

In addition to traumatic injuries they would expect to see in the ER, physicians and nurses are also seeing a growing number of patients with the behavioral health problems and drug issues, as well. 

“This morning when I got here, we had a large volume of patients seeking behavioral health treatment,” Steinhaus said. 

Emergency rooms are also seeing a large number of drug overdose patients. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, teen drug overdose deaths rose 19 percent from 2014 to 2015 in the U.S. And those numbers ring true to the physicians on the front lines. 

Dr. Jim Perri says overdoses happen far too often. 

“I’ll see at 10 o’clock in the afternoon, a 23-year-old kid who looks like he comes from a normal family overdose on heroin,” Perri said. “It really does not discriminate across social class, race, black, white or Hispanic.”

Medical professionals say many times the patients facing drug addiction and mental health problems have nowhere else to go so then turn to the ER for help.

"Unfortunately, since I started practicing some 15 years ago, it's way higher than it used to be, which is really a sad state for the community," Perri said. 

According to Mecklenburg County, the number of emergency room visits countywide has skyrocketed recently. From 232 recorded opioid overdose ER visits in 2012 to 528 so far this year.

That's a 127-percent increase. 

Steinhaus explained her team is ready for anything that may come through the doors and hopes one day there will be better options for patients with drug and mental health problems. 

Copyright 2017 WFMY


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