Statistics from the Madison Fire Department show there was a 300 percent increase in the number of times an anti-overdose drug was administered within the last year, an increase which is expected to continue.
The drug naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is used to save the lives of those who overdose on heroin and other opioids, Madison Police Department public information officer Joel DeSpain said. When users are pulseless and unresponsive from the effects of opioids, naloxone can revive them, Ché Stedman, MFD medical affairs division chief, said.
Naloxone is given to people who are pulseless and unresponsive when responders do not know the cause of the emergency. It is given as a cocktail of medicine to try and alleviate the unknown problem, Stedman said.
Naloxone helps to save lives and combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, DeSpain said.
“We … see opioid abuse and heroin addiction as a public health crisis in our community,” DeSpain said.
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The rising number of times naloxone was administered is due to the rise in the use of opioids, Stedman said. A lot of overdoses are from stronger batches of heroin, he said.
Stedman said last year MFD administered naloxone 49 times in January, February and March compared to 116 times in the same three months this year. As of April 12, naloxone had been given 30 times this month, and MFD is on pace to administer it 60 total times in April, Stedman said.
In the past couple of years, Stedman said, MFD has seen more overdoses in the summer, a trend they expect to continue. July was the highest month in 2015 for cases where naloxone needed to be administered.
DeSpain said MPD has seen increases in the use of naloxone as well. MPD officers began carrying naloxone last July, DeSpain said. From Jan. 1 to March 30 of this year, MPD administered naloxone 23 times.
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MFD has higher numbers of naloxone administration than MPD because they are the medical professionals at crime scenes, Stedman said. Police, however, are the first responders to the scene, so it is important for police to carry naloxone too, Stedman said.
“It is fantastic that police have it because they are quicker than us,” Stedman said. “There are more police than there are paramedics.”
There is a naloxone initiative in Wisconsin where all first responders carry the drug, Stedman said. Naloxone is also available in CVS and Walgreen pharmacies.
Though some may be concerned with the increased cost of using naloxone more often, Stedman said it is more of an operational stress than a financial stress on MFD.
Heroin and other addictions are becoming increasingly common and it is necessary to work with the communities and hospitals in order to help people get the support they need, DeSapin said.
“This is not something that we can arrest our way out of,” DeSpain said. “We need to get people the help they need to get off the drug.”