Preventative medicine: fire department packs overdose-fighting drug

By Kathryn Young

While Lexington officials say the epidemic of opioid addiction in Virginia and other states hasn’t hit their city yet, they have taken a step toward preventing fatal overdoses — just in case.

The Lexington Fire Department was awarded a grant of about $500 by the Virginia Department of Health to receive 14 nasal doses of Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan.

Narcan is a drug used to stop overdoses as they are happening.

Narcan stops overdoses of heroin, opioids or Fentanyl  by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, thus reversing the overdoses while they are happening.

Instructions
Lt. Larry Clemmer shows the instructions for how to use the nasal version of the Narcan drug. Photo by: Kathryn Young.

The doses received by the Lexington Fire Department are 0.1 milliliter doses of a liquid spray that is injected into the nose.

“We wanted to be prepared for when, and if, the increase [in opioid related deaths] is seen here in Lexington,” Lexington Fire Chief Ty Dickerson said.

Dickerson noted that there is a “high frequency all around us” for opioid use, citing Roanoke and Lynchburg.

“This is not a reactive response to a high number of cases here,” he said. “It is a preventative measure in case it does come here.”

“Lexington does not have a problem” with opioid abuse, said Larry Clemmer, a lieutenant at the Lexington Fire Department. However, he said the opioid problem may eventually hit Lexington.

“If it happens, we are ready,” Clemmer said. “We are taking a proactive approach.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, the City of Lexington saw one opioid-related death in 2016. In Rockbridge County, another opioid-related death was recorded. No opioid-related deaths were recorded in Buena Vista.

Throughout the entire state of Virginia, in contrast, 465 people died of prescription opioid overdoses in 2016, and an additional 803 people died of Fentanyl or heroin overdoses. Also, more than 8,500 Virginians visited emergency departments for opioid overdoses and almost 1,500 visited for heroin.

Virginia Department of Health Stats.png
The Virginia Department of Health’s statistics for opioid addiction in 2016. Narcan was administered more than 4,000 times across Virginia. Data courtesy of: Virginia Department of Health.

In 2015, approximately two percent of deaths in the United States were drug-related. In 2016, more than 59,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States, making it the leading cause of death among people under the age of 50. This number is up approximately 19 percent over 2015 numbers.

Although the Lexington Fire Department already had doses of Naloxone, those doses had to be injected by needle. Thus, the drug could only be administered by paramedics. The grant provided a nasal form of the drug, which can be administered by either paramedics or EMTs.

Narcan has been administered three times in the last twelve months, Dickerson said.

Every EMT and paramedic in the Lexington Fire Department will be trained to administer the drug. Once training is complete, the drugs will be deployed.

The grant also “saved [the Lexington Fire Department] from having to buy Naloxone from our general operating budget,” Dickerson said.

Because the city did not have money budgeted for the drug, they would have had to cut other items in the budget to pay for Naloxone.

The 14 doses were delivered to the department on Sept. 20, the day the grant was announced.

Dickerson said the thing he looks forward to most about the new Naloxone is “the chance to save somebody’s life.”

Narcan is available at both Kroger and CVS in Lexington without a prescription. However, to buy it, one must be trained to administer the drug.