Hawaii firefighters will be trained in administering naloxone in the case of opioid overdoses.
Earlier this month, Honolulu firefighters responded to two separate incidents in which people had overdosed on drugs. In both cases, they were the first on the scene and the patients were revived with Narcan, a powerful opioid antidote. This was made possible because Honolulu firefighters are now able to administer the opioid-reversal drug in order to help combat the growing crisis in Hawaii. They’ve joined the growing list of public safety officers who can administer it.
The opioid epidemic is a complex problem that has been growing in severity over the past few years. It is certainly not exclusive to Hawaii, but this area of the United States has been hit particularly hard. In 2017, for example, there were more than twice as many opioid overdose deaths in the state as there was the year previously, and there are a number of factors that have contributed to the rise in overdose fatalities, including increasing availability of illegal opioids, like heroin and fentanyl, as well as overprescribing of legal opioid drugs.
Training firefighters and first responders to use Narcan allows for one more tool that the state can use to combat the problem. Enabling firefighters to use the medication on their runs means they can save a life if they’re the first to respond without having to wait for assistance. All 1,100 uniformed HFD firefighters will soon be getting training on how to do so.
Michael Jones, HFD battalion chief, said there are 43 Honolulu fire stations while Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has 21 ambulances. “A lot of times you’re just going to have a fire truck that’s closer,” he explained.
The Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center will be doing the training for HFD, according to Executive Director Heather Lusk.
“We’re talking about four to five minutes of somebody not breathing,” Lusk said. “That could lead to cognitive impairment or even death.”
Previously, firefighters in the area were only able to give someone who had stopped breathing (which is common during an overdose) oxygen until EMS were able to arrive on the scene and administer Narcan. Having both units trained on its use significantly cuts down the amount of time that lapses.
The training for firefighters takes only 30 minutes and includes how to recognize the signs of an overdose and how to properly store the medicine in addition to actually administering it on the scene. The Honolulu Emergency Services Department is also debating whether to add Narcan to lifeguard towers as some have reported witnessing overdoses on or around beaches.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, and it’s no secret that the epidemic is ravaging communities across the country. The federal agency is recommending that Narcan not only be carried by first responders, but by average citizens so they can potentially save the lives of their loved ones. Many pharmacies are giving out samples to accomplish this goal.