Glen Herron, a paramedic at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, demonstrates the use of Narcan, a drug used specifically to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A new law will allow all first responders to carry the drug. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
July 3, 2017 9:53:59 AM
Glen Herron and Ron Nivens have saved lives with Narcan.
They, along with the rest of the ambulance service paramedics at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, know the drug well. It reverses the effects of opioid-based drug overdoses -- and now, thanks to new legislation in Mississippi, firefighters and other first responders can administer it.
In Oktibbeha County, Starkville Fire Department Chief Charles Yarbrough said he already has plans for firefighters to begin carrying the drug once they complete free training from Emergency Medical Services at OCH Regional Medical Center.
"I'm really proud of the state for being proactive on this instead of reactive," Yarbrough said. "I think by doing this, we can hopefully limit the number of overdose deaths. ... We're here to save lives, and this is just another way to save your life."
How Narcan works
Paramedics in the state have been using Narcan for years. Nivens said it was available on the ambulances when he began working at Baptist in 1996.
The drug works by blocking and reversing the sedating effects of opioids -- things like heroin and prescription narcotics, Herron said.
"A lot of times, (opioids) will sedate you to a point that you cannot protect your own airway," Herron said. "Your muscles will go limp enough that your tongue will actually (lie) back in your throat and block your airway."
The Narcan can be administered either through an IV or in a nasal spray. Paramedics administer two milligrams of the drug, though some patients need more.
But Narcan is only effective on narcotics. It won't work with other medications, and for that reason it can also be used as a diagnostic, Nivens said.
"It's a very specific antidote for a very specific (overdose)," he said.
And that specific overdose happens to be a current fad, Herron added. In some parts of the country, heroin has reached epidemic standards. Doctors, pharmacists and narcotics agents in Mississippi are also increasingly concerned by rising narcotic addictions.
"Because there are more regulations and accountability on prescription medication, more drug users are turning to street drugs such as heroin," Michael Hunt, EMS director at OCH, said in a press release Friday. "... The faster we can get other first responders in our community equipped with this medication, the better the chance of survival."
Herron and Nivens said they respond to either accidental or intentional overdoses regularly -- almost once a day.
That said, they rarely have to reach for Narcan.
"We might use it three or four times in a year," Nivens said.
And when they do use it, it has no side effects and usually brings the patient around long enough for them to get to a hospital for whatever treatment is still necessary.
"The only negative effect it's got is whatever money they spent on that high is gone," Herron said. "Instantaneously."
OCH will offer training for Starkville fire and police departments, Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office and volunteer fire departments, and Mississippi State University Police Department, according to a hospital press release. Yarbrough said the training could take a couple of weeks.
Not everyone is on board
But not all local departments are on board quite yet.
Columbus Fire and Rescue Chief Martin Andrews, upon learning about the law last week, reached out to city attorney Jeff Turnage because of liability concerns.
Turnage noted cases where departments have been sued when firefighters accidentally injured patients they were trying to give medical care -- he doesn't want CFR or CPD to be sued if the Narcan has side effects no one anticipated.
"There are liability issues that would concern me because the Sovereign Immunity Act only allows immunity from suit for police officers when they're performing a law enforcement function and for firefighters when they're performing a firefighting function," Turnage said. "The court's been very strict about that.
"There would be a liability issue with giving this drug," he added. "I don't understand (yet) what the risks are, but I understand there are significant risks with giving the drug that may result in a person's condition being worse than they would before you gave it. ... But all that being said, it would be a policy decision. We buy insurance for a reason, and I understand there are a lot of benefits to the drug."
Lowndes County Fire Services Coordinator Sammy Fondren also didn't know anything about the law being passed until last week.
Given that, along with concerns about training costs and liability, he hasn't decided whether the county's volunteer firefighters will be toting Narcan.
"Right now, I don't know," he said.
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