Overdose calls a challenge for dispatchers and first responders

Overdose calls a challenge for dispatchers and first responders

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County dispatchers are often the first to handle a possible overdose situation, and they say the calls are happening more often.

According to officials with the Horry County Emergency Communications Department, if they receive a call about a possible drug overdose, an officer must respond to the scene first to make sure it is safe.

Dispatcher Morgan Mullinax hasn't yet been on the job a year, but there are already calls embedded in her memory.

"There's one where teenagers hadn't found their mom," Mullinax said. "They had no idea that that's (overdose) what happened, and then there's a completely different spectrum. Well she OD'd last week and we brought her back, and we ended up bringing her back again while I was on the phone with them. So you either have they know, and they've been through this, or you get they have no idea and I think that's the hard part. They're going through this and the children, their family have no idea."

Mullinax said she hears the grim reality of what's happening in Horry County regularly.

"Most of the time they don't see it. Most of the time it's, 'I walk in, oh mom's passed out. I don't know. I can't wake her up,' type of situation," she said.

Mullinax added she has to use her instinct to determine what type of call or situation is happening to help first responders be prepared and be safe.

"Now, because we know we have such a big problem with the heroin epidemic around here, that's a question that we always ask," she said. "Well, does mom have substance abuse? Do you know if she takes anything?"

Last August the emergency telecommunications department was understaffed. According to Lori Woods, deputy director for Horry County Emergency Communications, only one vacant position currently stands. Training for the last hires are underway, which helps with the increased call volume.

"Not a lot of people want to tell us that's their situation, so it takes a lot of instinct on the telecommunicator's part to determine what kind of call they have, but ultimately they have to follow the procedure and ask the questions that are designated," Woods said.

According to Woods, the department is handling the increased call volume very well, but she said the biggest challenge with drug addiction calls is callers not giving vital information about the situation.

"We do see an influx of the calls coming in and a lot of people are very hesitant or not forthcoming with the information, and you can kind of get a sense of is that the type of call you are dealing with," Woods said. "But we still tailor our questioning towards the care of that patient."

Woods said if the paramedics and police know firsthand what they're going into, they can prepare be ready. She dded that is the reason dispatchers asks the questions.

"That's the biggest thing. We're not going to judge you, we're not here to do that," she said. "We're simply here to help. We're simply here to send the help that you need, and to be prepared we really need to know that situation at hand. Nobody's going to think anything less, or make a judgment. We're going to send help. That is what we do."

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