The opioid epidemic continues to plague America and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. It has hit Ohio particularly hard, with 4,050 residents dying from unintentional overdoses in 2016, according to statistics by the Ohio Department of Health. That is a 32.8 percent increase from 3,050 unintentional overdose deaths reported in 2015.
Madison County has not escaped the effects of the surge in opioid abuse. The various county law enforcement agencies and emergency responders are all too familiar with calls for unresponsive victims suspected of opioid overdose.
The number of unintentional drug overdoses totaled 94 in Madison County for 2016, according to data provided by Ohio Department of Health EpiCenter. The number of investigated fatalities due to the same was nine for that year according to Madison County Coroner James Kaehr.
The biggest danger from an opioid overdose is respiratory failure.
To prevent as many deaths as possible, first responders are consistently relying on Narcan, a proprietary form of the chemical naloxone hydrochloride, or naloxone.
Narcan is the first and only FDA-approved nasal form of naloxone for counteracting the effects of a known or suspected opioid overdose. The medication is used to reverse the depressive effects opioids have on the central nervous system — the system responsible for regulating breathing.
Madison County Public Health has been working with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to provide the lifesaving medication to various law enforcement and emergency services departments countywide. The program has been in place for approximately three years.
“The program is the result of funding granted by the state and it costs nothing for Madison County to participate in it,” said Madison County Public Health Director of Nursing, Susan Young. “It (the Narcan) is intended for law enforcement officers or other first responders to use until paramedics arrive on the scene.”
“All officers in the program go through training on administering the Narcan,” she said.
Once Young receives the year’s shipment from the state, she notifies Chief Robert Olwin of the Madison County Emergency Medical District who in turn provides an allotment of the medication to the county departments participating in the program. Each agency is responsible for training its personnel and distributing the Narcan among them.
Agencies currently participating in the program are: the Madison County Sheriff Department, London City Police, Central Townships Joint Fire District, the West Jefferson Patrol Post of the State Highway Patrol, and Madison County Emergency Medical District.
According to Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin, his department has used Narcan six times so far this year, although they have seen many more overdoses.
Neither the Plain City Police nor West Jefferson Police departments are involved with the program.
While Plain City police officers do have access to Narcan provided through the Union County Health Department, they haven’t used it in the three years it has been available claims police Chief Dale McKee. “We don’t get overdoses. We try and stay on top of our dealers and users,” he said.
For West Jefferson Chief of Police Terry Ward, the parameters for storing it make it impractical for his officers to carry. “It has such a narrow temperature range that it just makes it too difficult to keep in the cruisers,” he said. “The squad gets there first and they use it.”
As protocol, Madison County EMD units will administer Narcan to any unconscious victim when the origin for the victim’s state is unknown. “It only works on one thing and it can’t harm them,” said Chief Olwin.
While Narcan may save lives in the short term, it appears not to be a substitute for continued treatment.
According to a Massachusetts study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in October, of the more than 12,ooo people tracked who were revived using naloxone, nearly 10 percent were dead within one year. Of those, half were dead in one month.
For the opioid crisis to end, it will take continued effort from the greater community, believes Sheriff Sabin. “It has to be a multi-pronged approach of law enforcement, education, and recovery, rehabilitation services,” he said.
Reach Andrew Garrett at 740-852-1616, ext. 1616.