Schuyler Wong is a busy guy, doing everything he can to support the Charlottesville community and combat the opioid crisis. He’s an EMS provider, serves on the training committee for the local rescue squad, works as an Emergency Department technician at the UVA Health System, and trains staff how to respond to medical emergencies with the UVA Life Support Learning Center.

Schuyler is also working on a master’s degree in nursing with a focus on patient and healthcare provider education.

What motivates you in your day-to-day work?

I believe the best way to improve patient outcomes and overall community health is through education. What we know about health care and the human body changes so rapidly that it can be incredibly difficult to stay on top of the latest findings. My particular mix of jobs allows me to play a role in education while also performing direct patient care.

What inspired you to combat the opioid epidemic?

It’s easy to think that opioid addiction is something that only happens to “junkies” but in my experience, that’s not the case at all.  I’ve met people from all walks of life that have been affected by the opioid epidemic. For some, they’ve used illegal opioids themselves or abused prescriptions, or have a friend or family member that has. Few other drugs have been as insidious in infiltrating communities as opioids. They can come from both legal and illegal routes.

“It’s horrifying to think how easily opioid abuse could have affected me or someone I love, or that it most likely already does and I just don’t know it yet.”

What is your experience with the opioid epidemic in Charlottesville?

Although I have been in healthcare for a relatively short amount of time, in my seven years of experience as an EMS provider, I have seen a huge upswing in the number of opioid overdose patients. In the past few years, we’ve dramatically increased our training to care for patients with respiratory failure due to an opioid overdose. We’ve also expanded our scope of practice so that all of our providers, not just advanced providers, can be trained in Naloxone administration.

What do you want people to know about the opioid crisis?

I have found patients from every single sphere. Although we see plenty of calls in what may be perceived as the “bad parts of town,” my crew was once called for a man wearing a suit in the bathroom of an upscale store. Another time the patient was literally on a golf course. Another crew was dispatched for a man and his son who’d overdosed together.

“Opioid abuse really is prevalent in every single part of our community.”

The epidemic isn’t limited to intentional wrong-doing either. It’s easy for perfectly normal use to become abuse. Remember that everyone prescribed opioid pain medication is in pain, and many are in chronic overwhelming pain. When their prescription runs out and no one will prescribe more, where else can they turn but illegal sources?

On top of that, patients who do have a valid prescription can slip into overdosing as well. A perfectly healthy athlete breaks her leg and is prescribed some medication for the pain. Maybe she doesn’t even know it’s an opioid. She knows she’s only supposed to take one pill every 6 hours, but the pain is killing her. What’s the harm in taking the next dose a couple hours early? Or maybe she has to get through some grueling physical therapy so she takes two or three. The next thing she knows she wakes up in an ambulance.

Here’s another case I’ve seen many times: An older family member is wheelchair bound and in constant pain. He can’t get comfortable. His family gives him just a little bit of extra pain medication, just so he can rest.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to join the opioid awareness movement?

Volunteer. If you don’t want to work directly with drug addicts, that’s completely understandable. Honestly, I suspect that we may not be at a point yet where we know precisely how to combat the opioid epidemic. Some of the at-risk populations include teens, overworked parents, seniors with chronic pain, or people living without food or shelter. It’s ridiculous to expect someone to break an opioid addiction without community assistance.

“Any time we can give towards helping our community, it will help.”

If you are seeking treatment for yourself or someone else, contact Region Ten at 434-972-1800. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 for emergency services. The Blue Ridge Poison Center, located at the UVA Health System and staffed by Emergency Medicine personnel, can answer questions regarding medication mistakes and the consumption of other substances–the center can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.