The call came in to me last Easter Sunday. Our emergency department physicians were alarmed by a marked spike in patients they had seen during the previous 72 hours. The patients were suffering very serious side effects, and one fatality, apparently from smoking a potent synthetic drug meant to simulate the high that comes with marijuana and known as "spice."
Many of you know the rest of the story. As I write this, across Mississippi there have been a reported 511 emergency room visits and seven deaths attributed to the use of spice. More than 1,000 cases were reported nationwide during the first three weeks of April, with Mississippi one of three states with the highest incidence.
Scary as those statistics are, the toll might have been even worse had not our ED staff and others at UMMC acted swiftly and decisively to alert the statewide medical community and general public about this rash of dangerous overdoses.
On that Sunday afternoon and early evening, our emergency physicians worked with the state Department of Health to issue an advisory to all hospitals in Mississippi through the DOH Health Alert Network. And our on-call Public Affairs staff coordinated with both agencies to get an authoritative story out on that night's broadcast news and in the morning papers.
As the week wore on, our emergency doctors were the go-to experts for the media as we tried to share more information about the risks of spice. Not only that, members of our toxicology staff were out front in identifying the compounds in the material that were making people ill.
I bring this episode to your attention, especially the behind-the-scenes part, not because it is unusual but because it is the norm. Our UMMC faculty and staff could have easily justified waiting until regular business hours on Monday to get the word out about this dangerous public health threat. But in this case, the right time to do the right thing was NOW - even though it was Easter Sunday, even though people had plans, even though it could have waited.
This is who we are. When a tornado strikes in Louisville. When a fire truck overturns and pins the driver. When a patient's liver has failed and he's out of options.
We are "get it done" people. Get it done right. Get it done now.
And though there are other people and organizations in our state who take that same approach, the expertise and resources we bring to the table in many cases can't be duplicated.
Yes, this is our normal. But in my sometime role as cheerleader-in-chief, I want everybody to know how special you are and what a difference you make to our patients, our students and our state.
Thank you. And thanks for leading the way toward A Healthier Mississippi.