Lisa Cassidy was named Paramedic of the Year by the Missouri Emergency Medical Services Association. (Photo/St. Charles County Ambulance District)
The opioid epidemic has become national news – you can't turn on the TV without hearing a mention of the widespread issue.
But for first responders, the opioid epidemic is more than a 6 p.m. news story. It's an everyday, around-the-clock problem that's plaguing both large and small fire and EMS departments.
In St. Charles County, Mo., which is one of the nation's fastest-growing counties, paramedic Lisa Cassidy took note of the amount of overdose calls crews with St. Charles County Ambulance District were running.
Ready to make the county aware of its problem, Cassidy spearheaded the #StopHeroin campaign.
"We started out by wearing T-shirts that had a #StopHeroin logo on the back and then we did a social media blast of statistics, including how many overdose calls we were running," Cassidy explained.
What happened next, Cassidy said, was a domino effect.
"All this ever started out as was an awareness campaign – we wanted to make people aware that our county had a problem," she said.
CAMPAIGN GROWS TO HELP OPIOID OVERDOSE PATIENTS
Cassidy, who has been a paramedic for 20 years, has been at SCCAD for 19 years. She currently works at one of the busiest stations in O'Fallon, working 48-hour shifts with four days off in between. On her days off, she works on the #StopHeroin program.
The campaign, which Cassidy kicked off in August 2016, targets both teens and adults.
"A lot of people wanted to sweep it under the rug," she said. "We started giving out information on how to lock up your prescriptions, using drug disposal bags and where to find drug disposal drop-offs."
From there, the campaign blossomed and morphed with the help and backing of SCCAD's administration and board members.
"It's at a place that we never really thought it would be," Cassidy said. "Our administration and board were always willing to go that extra step and everything we asked for they allowed us to do. Without them and their consent, we wouldn't be doing anything that we're doing now."
As a matter of fact, hardly anyone is doing what SCCAD is doing. With the fast success of the awareness campaign, Cassidy wanted to start doing more education in the schools and outreach in the community.
In order to reach a wide audience, Cassidy teamed up with SCCAD employees to create a raw and emotional video about what happens during an overdose call.
"We have a paramedic at SCCAD that also has a film degree; he agreed to do it with us. I told them what I wanted to do, and because we all run a lot of overdose calls, it went pretty smooth. We did it all in almost one take."
The 45-minute-long presentation is tailored depending on the audience.
"We have one for teens and one for adults, which talks more about prescription lockup," Cassidy said.
In the video, there's a clip of paramedics and police officers answering basic questions about what it's like to have to tell someone that their child or family member has died from an overdose. There's also a clip of a SCCAD board member who lost her son to heroin eight years ago.
At the end of the presentation, St. Charles County overdose call statistics are shown.
The presentation is now being offered to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the Teen Drug Summit, which is put on every year by CRUSH – Community Resources United to Stop Heroin.
"They asked us to come back and be the keynote presentation. We want everyone to see what's going on through our eyes as paramedics." After the presentation is over, Cassidy said you can hear a needle drop in the room. However, she's always glad to answer the teens' questions.
"They have great questions at the end of the presentation. Some of them ask questions about their family members; they listen, they're very intrigued. I think it helps that we're paramedics. We run these calls we actually see these people for real. We're not lying, we're serious."