OD-reversing drug now on West Side fire engines

An educational pamphlet and samples of naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The U.S. Attorney General wants all first responders to carry a drug that can reverse the effects of heroin overdose, and Thursday, West Springfield firefighters trained to become the first basic life responders in the area to provide it.

Heroin and prescription painkiller abuse is a public health crisis taking lives in every state and community across the country. The number of overdose deaths involving heroin increased by 45% between 2006 and 2010, according to the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. Here in Massachusetts, there have been close to 200 opiate-related deaths just since November 1.

West Springfield’s EMS Director, Dr. John Santoro, explained why these drugs can be so deadly.

“The issue with narcotic overdoses is it’s a respiratory depressant. It stops your ability to breathe. The sooner you can reverse that and get that person breathing again, the best chance you have,” Santoro said.

The West Springfield Fire Department is now the first basic life support provider in western Mass. trained to administer Narcan. That means that when their engines arrive at an overdose call, the drug is on their trucks. Firefighters can begin reversing overdose effects even before paramedics get there.

Art Williamson, President of West Springfield Fire Local 2212, said that this is needed, because the problem has grown.

“It’s going to make differences. It’s going to save lives. Thirty years ago, this was a street problem. Now, this is a suburban issue. It hits close to home and this is an issue that goes into the nicest neighborhoods in West Springfield,” Williamson said.

Narcan buys the patient time until they get to the hospital — before the narcotic kicks back in. West Side Fire Chief William Flaherty told 22News that their ALS responders used Narcan 47 times last year; 35 were heroin overdoses.

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