Now a new program in conjunction with Jersey City Medical Center will allow Jersey City firefighters to administer naloxone.
In the past, naloxone has been administered by emergency medical technicians. But in Jersey City firefighters often arrive at an emergency sooner, so the new program can get help to victims faster and save lives.
In a country in the midst of an opioid abuse epidemic, heroin use has become widespread again, and overdose deaths have spiked. The misuse of prescription opioids has the same risk of overdose.
Unlike heroin, which can be difficult for people in some socio-economic groups to obtain, prescription opioid drugs are often found in parent’s or family member’s medicine cabinets.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 200 percent increase between 2000 and 2014 in overdose deaths involving pain relievers and heroin. In New Jersey, 1,253 drug and opioid overdose related deaths were reported by the CDC in 2014. Figures for 2015 had even higher numbers, up 21 percent from 2014. Since 2004, more than 6,000 people have now died in New Jersey overdosing from heroin.
A change in state law in 2014 allowed the city’s EMTs to administer naloxone. Now Jersey City Medical Center has trained first responder firefighters to provide the same treatment.
Firefighters are now going through a 15-minute refresher ahead of the roll out of the program in early August.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the issue. We know there is a problem.” – Fire Chief Steve McGill
Although naloxone was developed in the early 1960s, the drug had not been widely available until the recent development of alternative delivery systems. In the past, naloxone had to be injected directly into a vein, which required specific medical training.
Recently, new delivery devices such as those used for delivery of drugs for diabetics have made the drug more easily available. The spray system Jersey City Medical Center is using is the least complicated and most easily administered.
Firefighters will administer naloxone via a Mucosal Atomization Device (MAD), allowing the medication to be sprayed directly into the nose instead of via injection.
According to naloxone procedures and guidelines issued by Fire Chief Steve McGill, first responders will look for physical signs of opioid use that include respiratory problems, pinpoint pupils, and depressed mental state.
While all newly-hired firefighters are already required to take basic EMT training, this new program will allow them to administer naloxone as well.
Battalion Chief Tom Conforti is in charge of rolling out the program in Jersey City. Bayonne and Kearny have already implemented similar programs, making Jersey City one of only three municipalities in Hudson County where firefighters can potentially save overdose victim’s lives.
What delayed implantation was finding an affordable case in which to carry the naloxone. While the cost of the drug is about $40 a dose, the case could cost as much as $1,000. This is because the case must provide temperature controls that keep the drug from spoiling.
McGill said the cases they will use were especially made for the department, and ice pack is good for up to 50 hours. Each case holds four doses, one for the victim, the other three for firefighters in case they are accidentally exposed.
The boxes will be installed in each of the 16 engine companies that serve as first responders for the city.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the issue,” McGill said. “We know there is a problem.”
Jersey City police have done first responder duties since 1995 in order to provide life-saving treatment until an ambulance can arrive. Originally designed to deal with heart and breathing issues, now each fire responder is training in a variety of emergency issues, one step below an EMT. Each engine carries an automatic defibrillator as well as other gear.
Because engine companies are scattered strategically throughout the city, they are often able to get to a scene first, McGill said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.