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Paramedic Pushes to Make Heroin Remedy Available in MO After Losing Son

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. -- With hundreds of overdoses and dozens of heroin deaths in Pulaski County in the last five years, the head of the county's ambulance district says there is a life saving drug that should be more widely available in the state.
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. -- With hundreds of overdoses and dozens of heroin deaths in Pulaski County in the last five years, the head of the county's ambulance district says there is a life saving drug that should be more widely available in the state.

Pulaski County Chief Paramedic Gary Carmack lost his son to heroin last fall. Carmack says wider availability of a safe-to-administer, non-addictive drug can keep heroin from claiming lives.

Carmack has started a group called "The Lime Tree" after his son's favorite song. Their first order of business is to get lawmakers attention.

Pulaski County Chief Paramedic Gary Carmack has made a living saving lives. As a father, he's helped bring life into the world.

"James Aaron Carmack was born in July of 1988," says Carmack. "Very wonderful, bright beautiful young man."

James is the youngest of Carmack's children.

"He actually had a nickname," says Carmack. "'Gentle giant.'" 

Carmack said James loved history and anthropology, but in his teens he started experimenting.

"In middle school he possibly started using some pot," says Carmack. "For some reason he decided to try some Oxys, Oxycontin which is an opiate narcotic. They got very expensive and hard to get."

Then James upped the ante.

"Some things kept coming up missing," says Carmack. "And, you know, I couldn't quite figure it out and then finally found some paraphernalia one day. And Heroin, for all of the parents and family out there, is very cheap and very easy to get." 

"I asked him 'why?'" says Carmack. "And he, like so many of our youth, thought he could just do it once, see what it's all about and not go back."

The man who has spent decades saving people from the brink felt helpless as James risked his life over and over again. In 2013 heroin ultimately took James.

"He just had his 25th birthday in July and died in September," says Carmack.

Carmack says heroin's sedative effect is what takes so many lives.

"What heroin does and the opiates they put your brain to sleep and so you just forget to breath and your blood pressure drops and your heart rate drops and if that goes on long enough you die," says Carmack.

Hardest of all for Carmack, in his kit for the decades he's been a paramedic is a little pink box.

"We carry a drug Nolaxone which is commonly called Narcan and I've used this medication, we've had it in our drug box, I've used it since the 70s as a paramedic, never dreamed I would be thinking about with my child," he says.

Carmack explained how Narcan works.

"It fills the receptor site where the opiate is at," he says.

Essentially, bringing the heroin user back to life.

"It reverses the opiate, the narcotic effects so the brain can wake up and you can start to breath again," says Carmack.

Carmack said while the drug is available to emergency responders, he thinks it should be available to the public as well. He thinks it will help save more lives.

Carmack along with James' best friend, Tiffany Addington, wants other addicts to have a chance to survive the drug.

"We would like to see Narcan available for at risk families," says Carmack. "At risk people. We would like to see it on police cars, fire engines, it's a very safe drug. We probably use Narcan weekly. Sometimes even daily. If you're not like us, a paramedic, where you give it IV you can give it intranasally very safe."

In more than a dozen states across the nation, Narcan is available for third party prescription, but not in Missouri.

"It's something that needs to change," says Addinton, James' longtime best friend. "I truly believe that that will save a lot of lives."

Addington sites a 2010 CDC release that credits Narcan with saving more than 10,000 lives since 1996.

The truth is Narcan would have helped James 'only if'.

"Only if someone would have been there, but he died alone in the middle of the night," says Carmack. "But there are so many cases I see as a paramedic where we have people that don't get Narcan soon enough or they hesitate before they call us." 

Carmack and Addington are taking their push to legislators. Addington says it's a way to give James Carmack a second life and other addicts a chance to beat heroin.

"It's something that means a lot to me, as I've said, James is my best friend, he had told me in one of our last conversations that he wanted to change the world," says Addington. "And that he truly felt he could do that. So my hope is that I can do that for him through this program."

In addition to pushing for wider availability of Narcan, both Carmack and Addington would like to see a Good Samaritan law in Missouri.

In the second part of our series on this heroin issue we told you about a young woman who was left to die of a heroin overdose in a parking lot.

Under a Good Samaritan law the people she was with could have called police without fear of being arrested. Washington, California, Illinois and eleven other states have drug over dose Good Samaritan laws.

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