Opioid addiction and overdose has been named a national crisis: In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—not only affects public health but also social and economic welfare. However, a new program launched by Eagle County Paramedic Services in partnership with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and Vail Health hopes to prevent opioid overdoses and death with the use of naloxone in the home.
“This is a harm reduction initiative,” said David Miller, a community paramedic at EC Paramedics who is spearheading this program. “By distributing naloxone to patients who are abusing or are at risk of abusing opioids, including prescribed opioids after surgery, we’re hoping we can prevent opioid related deaths from overdose. It’s similar to having public access defibrillators in community spaces to assist people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.”
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Additionally, every use of naloxone to treat an opioid overdose is an opportunity for a person with opioid addiction to seek treatment and support, Miller said.
The likelihood of developing an opioid use disorder depends on many factors, including length of time a person is prescribed to take opioids for acute pain and length of time that person continues taking opioids (whether as prescribed, or misused) as well as social determinants of health.
“Because of our roles as Community Paramedics, we can help patients navigate through treatment options and we have the ability to follow up with patients and support them while they find the right short or long term treatment options,” Miller said. “As Community Paramedics, we also evaluate social determinants of health that impact addiction and substance use disorder. This allows us to get a better understanding of the whole patient and their unique and individual needs.”
Naloxone (the generic name for NARCAN®) can be administered as a nasal spray in a prefilled, needle-free device that requires no assembly. Since it’s easy to administer, patients can have the medicine on-hand when they or their loved ones need it. This medication will be available to patients at risk of opioid overdose because of opioid use disorder, or to patients being prescribed opioids for acute or chronic pain.
This initiative to provide naloxone to patients is occurring nation-wide. However, EC Paramedics is the only EMS service outside of Metro Denver taking part.
In addition to this program, Miller said there’s also a push locally and nationally to better educate healthcare providers on prescribing opiates.
“As a community, we’re taking this seriously,” Miller said. “Ambulances already carry NARCAN– our goal here is harm reduction before it gets to the point of needing an ambulance. But there’s also the need for stigma reduction. Since this program was launched a few weeks ago, it’s now out in the valley. Maybe now we can start talking about it and get people help.”