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Council member’s life-saving act highlights epidemic of overdoses

Jennifer Hensley wears many hats — Dr. Hensley, the chiropractor and business owner; Hendersonville City Council member, youth snow skiing and softball super mom. Until Friday she had not been known as a life saver.

She was driving her daughter to softball practice at 4 o’clock Friday afternoon when she noticed a car easing slowly out of the parking lot of Church Street Automotive.
“As I got closer I saw the driver was slumped over the steering wheel unconscious,” she said.
She pulled over, told her daughter to stay in the car, and raced to the vehicle to help the driver.
“The window was cracked and he was just totally unresponsive, and there were two other people in the car that were just like geeked out of their mind,” she said. “I said, ‘What’s he on?’” When the young women said they didn’t know, she resorted to a swear word. “And she’s like, ‘Fentanyl.’ I said, ‘Do you guys have any Narcan in this car?’ And they said, ‘No, we left it at home.’”
She told the passengers to get out and “help me get this car in park.”
“Then I was able to get him on the sidewalk and started a couple of chest compressions and then he started gurgling,” she said. “I just rolled him on to his side and waited for the paramedics to get there. Fortunately, the paramedics got there. They were able to dose him.”
“It’s really scary,” she said. “He was driving a vehicle into oncoming traffic at 4 o’clock on a Friday. … I’ve given CPR before but I had never given CPR to someone who had, like, died from a drug overdose.”

Narcan ‘has created a safety net’

The use of Narcan, the miracle savior of addicts who overdose on drugs, is more common than ever. Regular users often have a supply on hand. And first responders have saved many lives with a dose, which is usually administered as a mist in the nasal passage.

Although he did not go on the call Friday afternoon, Hendersonville Fire Chief D. James Miller said he is “intimately” familiar with the case, maybe because it involved a City Council member.
“Had she not been there, it could have drastically changed the outcome for that patient,” Miller said. “If you think about it, how many cars drove by without stopping, and she stopped to render aid. That’s No. 1, and No. 2, she knew to get him out and start taking care of him prior to our arrival, which makes all the difference in the world to us.”
To name the patient would be a HIPAA violation, he said, although the law allowed him to give an age range of late 20s to early 30s.
“Unfortunately, they’re incredibly common and much more so than they ever were,” he said. “Now they’re using carfentanil, which is an elephant tranquilizer, which is like a thousand times more powerful.” (Carfentanil is 1,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration website said.)
At its most recent meeting, the Henderson County Board of Health heard a report on accidental deaths. Unintentional poisoning — which includes drug overdoses — is the second leading cause of injury death in the county behind falls. Deaths by “unintentional medication” and drug overdose are most common in people 25 to 34 years old, and more common among men. Overdose deaths from heroin, fentanyl and other synthetic narcotics are up significantly since 2016.
The very fact that first responders and often the drug-using community itself has access to the life-saving reversal is likely a factor in the spike in ODs.
“In my opinion, the readily available Narcan has created a safety net,” Miller said. “When you have Narcan sitting right next to you, they might ordinarily do a quarter, then they do a half, now they do three quarters, so their tolerance is building up, the amount they need to do to get the same high continually escalates. That’s the struggle that we face. If you overdose, I give you Narcan to reverse it, and they go back to their next high.”
There’s the accelerating expense, too. A dose of Narcan that used to cost the city $5 to $10 is now around $90. The double-dose rescue of the drug user on Friday afternoon cost the city $180, Miller said, not counting personnel, use of the fire truck, fuel, medical supplies and other costs.
“You’re talking a $200 impact to the city — for what? We use that Narcan, which ruins the high and brings him back,” Miller said. “Now what’s his next step? To go find the next high. That’s the frustration for us. It’s become so prevalent that now law enforcement is carrying Narcan in their cars.”
For Hensley, the drug overdose episode “just highlights some serious discussion that we’ve got to have about mental health and drugs and substance abuse.
“We need more (treatment), we need better,” she said. “I’m going to bust my butt to see some change.”
Her own role in the rescue also compounded her appreciation for first responders on board the fire trucks and county EMS ambulances.
“I think about how hard my heart was racing and how shaky I was, that I had to see that and did what I did,” she said. “But this is what they do all the time. And that’s the part that’s so crazy.”
After reviving him with two shots of Narcan, paramedics loaded the drug user onto a stretcher and checked to make sure he was OK. When he declined a trip to the hospital, paramedics had no choice but to turn him loose.