PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The state of Mississippi has the 5th highest rate in the country of narcotics being legally prescribed for pain.
But, that pain relief comes with a high cost.
People are dying from overdoses at the rate of almost two every week. The problem has found its way into the medical system, which includes hospital emergency rooms and in the backs of ambulances.
Kathlene Pearson is a paramedic with Acadian Ambulance. She says someone calls for help after an opioid overdose nearly every day.
"Honestly, there's not a typical patient. But most of the time they are unresponsive, or, they can actually be combative as well," said Pearson. "A lot of times we have to call law enforcement to kind of control it before we get there."
For her, some calls are like a punch to the gut.
"It's always tragic to see kids that are involved. When you show up on the scene, and it's their mother or father that's on the floor and the child is in the background crying or upset or asking why mommy is not breathing or talking. That is always the most heartbreaking worst case scenario."
At the emergency room at Singing River Hospital, there's no doubt among the staff that the problem is real.
"I think it's definitely an epidemic. It's something that we see every day in the emergency department. I think the latest statistics that I saw was 1.2 million prescriptions in 2014 was how much was prescribed in Mississippi alone," said patient care manager Maegan Smathers.
The stakes are incredibly high when an overdose patient arrives at the door.
"Most people come in very sedated. That's the biggest problem you run into is people who overdose on opioids lost their ability to breathe correctly," said ER physician Dr. Gregory Patino. "If they have enough opiates in their system, they'll stop breathing which usually leads to death."
For Patino, simple math explains the growing crises.
"There's been a direct correlation between the amount of opiates that have been prescribed and the amount of people that have become addicted," Patino said.
Medical opinions, including his own, have now changed about narcotic painkillers.
"These medications are truly very dangerous. You need to think very carefully and have close consultation with your physician before starting these medications," said Patino.
There's also a mental side to the equation.
"When you're in the middle of an addiction like that, you really don't see the other side. They don't look at that behavior as being not ok," said Kim Henderson, director of critical care services.
Many medical professionals have a theory as to why this opioid epidemic is sweeping the country. Newspapers, magazines, and tv often have a common theme - ad after ad for medicine.
"It seems that we're a country that just can't live without its pills," according to Henderson. "We're in a society right now where unless we go to a physician and walk away with a prescription, you know, it's instant gratification. We don't think we've gotten our money's worth if we don't walk away with a prescription."
In May, Mississippi was given a $3.5 million federal grant to help fight the opioid epidemic. That includes supplying most paramedics and emergency rooms with Narcan, a proven lifesaver for people who overdose on narcotic painkillers.