Marietta Fire Captain Jack Hansis has worked as an EMT for more than 30 years, and can describe the painful moment friends and family experience when it's too late to save a loved one from an accidental overdose.
"I've seen people circling the drain, heart stopped, and we do everything we can to push the meds in to make resuscitation effective," Hansis said.
And those cases, with three heroin deaths reported in Washington County last year and 725 in Ohio in 2012, are projected to keep rising without a plan in place.
Today, statewide as well as local health officials and law enforcement have their eyes on a new program targeted at saving the lives of opiate addicts by allowing their friends and family to deliver an antidote themselves.
Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio House passed House Bill 170 in 2013, which makes it legal for law enforcement, medical personnel and friends and family to obtain and carry Naloxone, a drug proven effective at reversing the effects of opiate and heroin overdoses.
Now, several counties in Ohio are partaking in Project DAWN, a pilot program where friends and family can obtain the drug for emergency use on loved ones, an attempt that has drawn both support and opposition.
House Bill 107
Allows health institutions and industries to set up programs to distribute overdose antidote Narcan, the commercial form of Naloxone, which reverses the effects of opiate and heroin overdoses
Protects health care professionals who prescribe the medication to anyone who is experiencing, or about to experience, an opioid-related overdose.
Narcan can be given to friends or family members who are in a position to help someone nearing an overdose.
Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone)
Cuyahoga, Lorain, Montgomery, Ross, Scioto and Stark counties are participating.
Lake County: Project launches in June.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of overdose.
Distinguishing between different types of overdose.
Performing rescue breathing.
Calling emergency medical services.
Administering intranasal Naloxone.
"If we can do something to prevent it, I'm all for it, but we have to weigh it against other things," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks. "Is this going to provide a false sense of security to people that use?"
Any organization or local agency that holds a category II or III terminal distributor of dangerous drugs license from the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy can apply to become a naloxone distributor. Locally that could include both the Memorial Health System and the county and city health departments.
Some of the counties on the forefront of Project DAWN have started training programs to educate laypeople to administer the drug, commercially named Narcan, by use of an intranasal kit to prevent needle sticking injuries.
Lake County will be rolling out a program in June, while counties like Montgomery, Ross, Scioto and Lorain, among others, have locations at hospitals and health departments where legal residents of the county can obtain the prescription for a loved one.
According to the Associated Press, The University Hospital's Elyria Medical Center in Elyria reported that it has given out seven of the intranasal Narcan kits for free. Normally, the cost is $30.
The Ohio Department of Health has provided seed money for the initial project, with local entities aiding the funding effort to bring the program to their counties.
Washington County Health Department Administrator Court Witschey chose not to comment or take a position on the program Wednesday without obtaining further information about it, and the Marietta City Health Department could not be reached for comment.
"For some, it's just an enabler to allow their loved one to continue their addiction," Hansis said. "This is different than having a trained medical personnel in the field that are taking annual training and are staying current."
Hansis said EMTs have been safely administering the drug for decades, but is concerned that the flexibility will just allow people to delay medical attention.
The current DAWN programs require extensive training from health professionals, and the law requires loved ones to call 911 before or after administering the drug.
Ron H. Graham, deputy health commissioner for Lake County, said in a press release that people must realize that overdoses will not simply stop through drug prevention programs, and that this step is needed.
"In order to be effective in reducing and preventing this risky behavior, we need to attack it from all fronts," he said in the release.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, there is no risk of overdosing on Narcan and those who take it when they are not actually overdosing are not at risk.
"We do support intranasal Narcan being administered by family and friends if they are properly trained," said Jennifer Offenberger, communications director for the Memorial Health System.
Offenberger said for now, the health system has not decided whether or not it will pursue the option of becoming an official distributor.
"We'll be including in protocol soon education for people other than paramedics to provide it, and we support it because of the potential to save lives," she said.
Mincks said there is a need for a solution, as heroin-related deaths have increased in the area, but his concern involves the idea of civilians having the drug in their hands at any time.
"What is to prevent addicts from obtaining it and keeping it with them and then using it whenever?" he said. "And is there any regulation as to how it is stored or whether it has to be thrown out after a while?"
Both Mincks and Hansis said that once pilot programs are launched in other parts of the state and more research has been done, that bringing a program to the Washington County could become more of a possibility.
"I just have to question whether it's just a knee-jerk reaction to the problem," Hansis said. "We're not solving the problem of addiction, it's just a Band-Aid."