This fall, the Bolton Volunteer Fire Department became the first fire department of its kind to be authorized by New York State to administer Narcan, the nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
“Eleven members of the department were trained in the use of Narcan in October and another training session is scheduled for November,” said Fire Commissioner Steve DeLorenzo. “We hope to have everyone trained and prepared to administer the drug when and if necessary by the end of the year.”
According to DeLorenzo, the department became aware that Narcan can save the lives not only of those taking opioids but of the firefighters themselves, who might accidentally come into contact with a drug in the course of responding to a call for help.
New York State provides the fire department with Narcan at no cost, said DeLorenzo.
New York is making the nasal spray increasingly available to first responders and others in positions to save lives, and that’s a good thing, experts say.
Narcan, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, should be “within reach of all community members who may come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of drug overdose deaths have been rising across the U.S. since 2006.
Between 2018 and 2022, accidental overdoses claimed the lives of 177,000 Americans under the age of 40. Overdoses in that age group were up by nearly a third in 2021 over 2018, and in 2022 were 21% higher still, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Accidental overdoses are now the number one cause of death for young people in 37 states.
While the opioid epidemic leaves no part of the country untouched, overdose deaths from opioids are higher in rural areas than in the cities and suburbs, the CDC states.
Rural counties are at a disadvantage in part because of the distances to be covered when responders answer calls for assistance for opioid overdoses. That’s a challenge a fire department authorized to carry Narcan may help overcome.
“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the EMS gets to a medical emergency before the Fire Department does,” said Steve Delorenzo. “But there are occasions when we may be on a call and can arrive at the scene of an overdose first. With the ability to administer Narcan ourselves, we don’t have to wait for a mutual aid ambulance to get there.”
The Bolton Emergency Squad has been equipped with Narcan for years, and has responded to and in some cases reversed several overdoses, said DeLorenzo, an EMS volunteer himself for many years.
The Bolton Volunteer Fire Department’s training in the administration of Narcan was overseen by its medical director and its procedures and protocols for using the drug in the field were approved by New York State.
According to DeLorenzo, the members of the Fire Department anticipate treating not only those afflicted with substance abuse but people who may have been prescribed opioids by doctors and who misread or misunderstood instructions.
Narcan can reduce the chances of brain damage or respiratory failure if delivered within a critical period of time, experts say.
To make treatment even more widely available, Narcan will be available to firefighters who wish to carry it in their personal vehicles, said DeLorenzo.