Ashland City officer recounts saving man’s life as Tennessee faces surge in suspected overdoses in 2020

Tennessee's Overdose Crisis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – According to the Metro Health Department, there have been 164 suspected fatal drug overdoses so far in 2020.

In Cheatham County, the numbers are much less, but the effort to save each overdose victim’s life is equally as intense.

According to Cheatham EMS, more than seven dozen people have overdosed so far this year. Seventeen people have died.

But many more would have died if not for heroic first responders who respond to horrific crime scenes where patients are often without life signs when they get the call.

One of those cases happened on May 23 in Ashland City. Ashland City Police Officer Alexis Duncan, with just a year of service under her belt, was the first to respond to a call for help at an apartment complex.

“We were dispatched to an unconscious, unresponsive,” said Duncan. “We had no indications it was an overdose. With [their] age, we didn’t expect an overdose.”

Bodycam showed the young officer putting on gloves and moving through the apartment, into the kitchen.

She found a 53-year-old man, exhibiting very few life signs, on the kitchen floor.

A fellow officer was also on the scene. Duncan once worked as an EMT and quickly jumped into life-saving mode.

“You can see some indications of drug usage lying around. The homeowner did say they gave him Narcan.”

Duncan said she found many needles and heroin at the scene.

Duncan described what she was thinking as the officer rolled the victim over, and then began vigorously pumping on his chest. “I’m just hoping he will wake up. I’m just hoping that my training and everything I’ve been taught will play out and in this case, it did.”

The 23-year-old began with chest compressions. On camera you hear her yell at the unconscious man. “Hey, sir. Get up!”

After a few minutes, she bagged the victim, placing a mask over his mouth and nose and then pumping air into the man’s lungs.

After many minutes of continuous CPR and 3 doses of Narcan, the man finally showed signs of life.

Police said the man later admitted to buying blue heroin in Nashville.

In the footage, you can hear a Cheatham EMS crew member yell, “what did you take?”

“I can’t breathe that’s all,” the man whispered.

The EMS worker doesn’t buy it. “Nah, I don’t think you took something to help you breathe, I think you shot something up.”

Despite the vacillating opinions of law enforcement following the death of George Floyd, Officer Duncan said she took this job to make her community safer and to help people.

“Yeah, there’s a lot going on for sure, the good and the bad of the police. But we get a call and we respond no matter if you like us or not. We are there for a reason, and in this case to save a man’s life. We put it on every day. You never know what you are going to get. Whether it’s to go on something like that and save a life. Whether it’s to help a senior citizen or come into contact with people who don’t like us. But you have to do your job. You are in for it, not for the glory or the fame and certainly not the money, but to know that you make a difference in someone’s life.”

The 53-year-old man was not charged, but a woman in the apartment was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence.

In comparison, Nashville has seen 2,600 overdoses this year. The Metro Health Dept said it’s a 39% increase compared to 2019.

Metro Health officials say it’s important to note that over 70% of Davidson County’s fatal overdoses this year involved Fentanyl. That’s up from around 63% at the end of last year.

“It is important that people know this powerful opioid is more pervasive than ever in the drug supply in Tennessee. It is found in fake pills and in what some users might think is heroin or crack cocaine…” said Trevor Henderson, Metro Public Health Department.

Metro’s suspected overdose numbers are eye-opening. From January to June 2019 there were 1,869 suspected overdoses. Over the same time period in 2020, there were 2,601 suspected overdoses, a 39% increased compared to the year prior.

“According to the latest numbers from our Drug Overdose Reporting system from January through May of this year, nonfatal opioid overdoses are up over 15 percent compared to the first five months of last year. While we have typically seen an increase in overdoses heading into summer, this year’s numbers are particularly alarming because fewer hospitals are reporting to our Drug Overdose Reporting System and we have seen fewer ED visits statewide, both due to COVID-19. The true number of overdoses is likely to be even higher,” the Tennessee Department of Health said in a statement sent to News 2.

As noted before, the increase is largely among people between 25-44 years of age. In that age range, the number of overdoses was 45 percent higher in May 2020 compared to May 2019.

Opioid overdoses have been high across the state, with seven of the 13 public health regions/metros exceeding our thresholds of concern for at least one week in May, In particular, Davidson and Shelby counties saw sustained increases in opioid overdoses throughout May.

Tennessee’s overdose crisis is evolving in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. First responders and emergency rooms are reporting an increase in overdose cases. News 2 examines the disturbing trend in a special investigation. Read the latest reports here.        

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