First responders play an important role in distributing this lifesaving medication

ERIE COUNTY – As part of Emergency Medical Services Week (May 21-27), the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) is expanding its Narcan distribution program to include all 97 volunteer fire departments in Erie County.

“The chaotic scene of an opioid overdose is not the best setting for talking about medication addiction treatment (MAT) or harm reduction options,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “These patients are often disoriented, in extreme pain or discomfort, and recovering from a medical emergency. What we can do is leave behind Narcan, peer contact and treatment information and other health education materials for the patient and their family, for when they are ready.”

“Volunteer firefighters see the most tragic and heartbreaking situations on the front lines of our opioid epidemic,” Burstein continued. “They leave a scene, and they do not have any knowledge about what happens after their response or ability to prevent a repeat overdose. With this program, firefighters may leave behind materials on request or when opioid use, misuse or overdose is suspected. If appropriate they can also leave materials on a kitchen table or other place where they will be noticed.”

“This opens the door for support, treatment and recovery in a way that is not confrontational or aggressive, and gets this lifesaving medication into households and businesses where it could be used.” Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force Director Cheryll Moore explained. “ECDOH has been training volunteer firefighters for years on how and when to use Narcan, and this project is a natural extension of that work.”

Opioid overdoses can cause a person to stop breathing. Narcan is a medication given as a nasal (nose) spray to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and get the person to start breathing again. “Narcan is first aid – the antidote to opioid poisoning,” Moore said. “In the majority of opioid overdose deaths we are seeing in Erie County, the victim dies at their home. Imagine being that family member who finds their loved one, at home, not breathing because of an opioid overdose. Narcan is a medication that can literally bring that loved one back to life.”

ECDOH has started to provide deliveries of Narcan kits and other harm reduction materials to each volunteer fire agency in Erie County to stock in their ambulances and emergency response vehicles. That includes about 100 agencies covering Erie County’s suburban and rural areas. “As a 30-year member of the volunteer fire service I see the ‘Leave Behind Narcan’ program as another critical resource for potentially achieving a prolonged positive outcome,” said Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Daniel J. Neaverth, Jr.