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Opioid response team offers help, hope to overdose survivors

First Responders are taking a new approach to help people who have recently overdosed, find a new life.

SAN ANTONIO — Overcoming opioids is difficult for our neighbors struggling with drug addiction. 

First Responders are taking a new approach to help people who have recently overdosed, find a new life.

“I started using heroin when I was 16. I'm 51 years old now. Last month was my first overdose and I think that was my wake up call,” said Abel Martinez.

His deep brown eyes do little to reveal everything that’s happened in those 51 years.

“The biggest thing that I have now is hope.”

Martinez says he’s traded heroin for that new h-word. Hope is a state of mind he hasn’t had in decades.

“I just wake up and I ask God for one more day and I take it one day at a time.”

The change started with a visit from the fire department. Deon Popoy and Isaac Gomez are members of the first Texas Targeted Opioid Response team, called TTOR. It's a subdivision of the San Antonio Fire Department's Mobile Integrated Healthcare Unit.

A grant from the State of Texas is bankrolling a collaboration between the fire department and the UT Health School of Nursing. Several programs are working to end opioid abuse in Bexar County. TTOR focuses on helping people find the recovery plan that will work for them.

“We know that when somebody experiences in overdose are very likely to overdose again,” said Dr. Lisa Cleveland with the UT Health School of Nursing.

The TTOR guys are targeting that statistic with education, supplies and contacts at local recovery resources. Part of the outreach is giving loved ones CPR training and NARCAN.

"Peel, place and press,” said Gomez as he demonstrated how to administer NARCAN. The nasal spray is used to reverse the effects of an overdose.

“We see the people when this event happens and they're at their lowest,” said Popoy.

The two Paramedics check the gear in the back of their white SUV. The vehicle packs enough equipment to act like a condensed ambulance.

“We know that community. I think that gives us that edge to understand where these people might be coming from and let them know that we're here to help,” said Gomez.

The duo gathers information on patients who have overdosed within the last day or two. If the individual accepts the help from TTOR, Paramedics will move through a recovery plan from there.

”Everybody has a story,” said Popoy. “Once you engage them and they're willing to accept assistance and help and they're willing to open up to you and you can do something that really changes their life, that really means something.

Martinez says he’s grateful the firefighters wanted to save his life.

“They make me feel that I'm capable,” said Martinez. “I just felt that this was what I had been waiting for, this was going to work for me, that somebody actually was there to help me.”

As Martinez focuses on his recovery, TTOR is making more visits through the city to get people the help hope they need.

The Joint Opioid Taskforce and UT Health School of Nursing was recently awarded $17.3 million to continue their work. Some of that money is funding the TTOR team here in San Antonio.