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UT hosts heroin overdose simulation to help fight drug epidemic

Lying passed out on the floor with a needle stuck in his arm, “Jasper” is no dummy.

It is a human simulator posing as a man who overdosed on heroin to teach medical students at The University of Toledo how to save a drug addict’s life.

Toledo Fire and Rescue Department paramedic students administered Narcan to the simulated heroin overdose patient inside the staged apartment.

Toledo Fire and Rescue Department paramedic students administered Narcan to the simulated heroin overdose patient inside the staged apartment.

In front of an audience, students training to be doctors, nurses and emergency responders were put to the test with a heroin overdose simulation in UT’s Jacobs Interprofessional Immersive Simulation Center on Health Science Campus.

The real-time emergency situation — from the staged apartment to the simulated hospital room — was broadcast to a crowd of recovering heroin addicts, Toledo police and fire chiefs, UT faculty and staff, and community partners to increase education about Ohio’s heroin epidemic.

“We wanted everyone to experience the high-intensity process, emotions and medical treatment of heroin overdose starting inside a home,” Tia Hornish, UT clinical simulation and education research associate, said. “By watching the situation unfold, we hope they feel a connection to what is happening to people of all ages and walks of life in our community. As health-care providers, we need to be able to understand that the heroin epidemic is not discriminating against anyone and provide resources to help addicts.”

Third-year medical student Nathan Marcinkowski led the team in a state-of-the-art medical simulation suite, which served as the ER for the heroin overdose exercise.

Third-year medical student Nathan Marcinkowski led the team in a state-of-the-art medical simulation suite, which served as the ER for the heroin overdose exercise.

EMT students got experience administering the antidote drug Narcan, which is now available at pharmacies over the counter, and transporting the patient to the simulated emergency room.

“Narcan is only temporary,” Dr. Paul Rega, assistant professor in the UT Department of Emergency Medicine, said. “It does not cure.”

Since Narcan — also known as naloxone — wears off before the overdose, medical students then took over and ran through all of the life-threatening complications that come with a drug overdose.

Students training to be doctors, nurses and physician's assistants worked together to save the human simulator suffering from complications that resulted from a heroin overdose.

Students training to be doctors, nurses and physician’s assistants worked together to save the human simulator suffering from complications that resulted from a heroin overdose.

“This is an area where you have a controlled setting with a high-fidelity simulator that can mimic a lot of conditions,” Rega said. “The students practice and when the real situation arises, they are not shocked by it. They can address it in a proper fashion.”

Third-year medical student Nathan Marcinkowski was the team leader.

“Normally, students don’t get to experience these types of situations until their residencies,” Marcinkowski said. “It’s great training for us and also a great experience for the community to be here. I know there is a lot of debate about Narcan, but I think it’s really good that people are interested in learning about this.”

This time, Jasper survived.

The simulation was a shock for Matt Bell, who sat watching in the audience.

“Five dollars’ worth of heroin almost killed me,” Bell, who overdosed in fall 2014, said. “Narcan saved my life.”

Bell is co-founder of Team Recovery, a local organization of recovering heroin addicts who are working to help other addicts get sober. Team Recovery holds family support group meetings once a week. Representatives also share their stories in school classrooms from sixth grade through college to spread prevention awareness.

“I graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA, but dropped out of UT after pain pills from a baseball injury led me ultimately to heroin addiction,” Bell said. “There is a way out. This simulation may be scary to see, but people need to understand the severity and prevalence of what is happening inside so many homes in our area.”