UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Union County Sheriff's Deputy James Maye will never forget the night of November 17, 2015. The dispatcher's call right around 11 p.m. Two men in Monroe were overdosing on heroin.
"Our response time was less than a minute," said Maye.
In the next few moments Maye would witness the depravity of drug abuse and the redemptive power of modern medicine.
"Both males had very faint pulses," said Maye. "Their breathing was very shallow."
A pain inducing knuckled rub to the sternum woke up one of the two men. The other though was in desperate shape.
"He began to aspirate," said Maye. "It sounded as if he was gurgling."
What he was doing was dying. The heroin was shutting down his respiratory system. It's when Union County EMS paramedics showed up. They were armed with a second chance, or as some call it the "Lazarus Drug." Five minutes after administering it, the man on death's door, was sitting up and talking.
"It was shocking it was just like nothing had every happened to him," said Maye.
In North Carolina heroin's grip has become increasingly deadly. In 2010, 38 deaths were attributed to the drug. By 2014 the number had skyrocketed to 253, a 565% increase.
The North Carolina General Assembly took notice and took action in 2013. It made the "Lazarus Drug" that goes by the brand name Narcan, more widely available. People outside of hospitals and ambulances could now get it. Advocacy groups say the bold move has already saved hundreds of lives.
"Does anybody know when we want to administer Narcan?" asked Stephen Dean as he stood before a group of sheriff's deputies last month.
Dean works for Union County EMS. He's been a paramedic for 20 years. He says when he started in his line of work Narcan was used maybe 10 times a year. In Union County last year it was administered 112 different times. He is now training Union County Sheriff's Deputies on how to use. The deputies will soon be carrying it with them on the beat because they are often first on the scene.
"It means a greater chance of survival," said Dean. "This is not just a heroin problem. (Narcan works for) any opiate, pain medications too."
Skeptics wonder if making this life-saving drug more available takes the risk out of drug abuse and thus reduces the incentive to rehabilitate. Deputy Maye says it's not his first concern.
"Our main priority is to protect life," said Maye. "What we hope comes of these terrible situations is the user realizes 'Hey, I almost died,' and if we would have been there four or five minutes they may have."
More than 60 law enforcement agencies in North Carolina are now arming officers with Narcan. Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Officers do not. CMPD says Charlotte Fire and Medic carry it and CMPD says they're personnel are already medically trained and get to scenes just as fast as police.
Nationally, The Drug Enforcement Agency says 47,000 people, 129 people a day died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014. 61% of those deaths are from heroin or opioids. The DEA also says 435,000 Americans reported using heroin within the last month.
It's an epidemic that does not discriminate. Law enforcement officers and medical professional alike say evidence of heroin's use can be found everywhere, from the toughest streets to the priciest subdivisions.
"I think people like to think that its not in their neighborhood but unfortunately it is," said Maye.