Narcan, a medication that reverses the effects of opioids and is most commonly used to combat heroin overdose, is now aboard many Lancaster County emergency vehicles and police cruisers.
And those who administer it here agree: It’s saving lives at a record pace.
Local emergency-responders, police, doctors and prosecutors say the nasal-administered antidote is reviving people from extremely grave circumstances.
Bob May, executive director of Lancaster EMS which serves 18 local municipalities including Lancaster city, said his crews use Narcan daily.
“Everyday,” May said, “we’re either waking someone up or saving a life with Narcan.”
May said his agency used over 700 doses – two a day, on average – last year, and he said that number will climb significantly for 2015.
County police officers, recently equipped with the antidote, have also saved lives in cases when they are first on scene after a 9-1-1 call.
Detective John Burkhart, of Lancaster County Drug Task Force which operates under District Attorney Craig Stedman, pointed to at least a dozen “saves” made by police officers using Narcan.
Dr. Michael Reihart, emergency medical director for Lancaster General Health and medical director for Lancaster EMS, recalled a single day over the weekend of Sept. 25 when, he believed, police officers made at least three “saves” of overdose patients who likely would have died without Narcan.
Every police vehicle in the county is now equipped with two doses of Narcan. Many departments are going through their initial supply, according to Assistant District Attorney Todd Kriner, supervisor of Stedman’s felony drug unit.
Lancaster city police used several doses over the busy Sept. 25 weekend. City police Lt. Todd Umstead said city officers are using the antidote almost daily. Following that weekend, the department requested 40 additional dosages.
It’s undoubtedly effective, but the antidote doesn’t come cheap, at $40-plus per dose.
District Attorney Stedman’s office allots money for the initial Narcan costs via civil asset forfeitures – not taxpayer funds. The Drug Task Force, which operates under Stedman, then distributes the Narcan doses to police departments.
The county is reimbursed by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association with a grant from Capital Blue Cross.
Heroin users unconscious from overdose are waking up alert and breathing – albeit a bit angry at times – from a dosage of Narcan, administered via capped syringe into a patient’s nose.
Narcan, which has been around since the 1980s, essentially neutralizes the effects of heroin and other opiates. Overdose results in loss of consciousness, respiratory depression - and ultimately respiratory failure - followed by cardiac arrest. When Narcan is administered, and it works, the patient wakes up to immediate withdrawal condition. That’s why some patients are agitated when they come to.
Heroin – which DA Stedman said has reached “epidemic proportions” – use has crossed all social and economic divides here in Lancaster County: Poor and privileged alike, in regions across the county.
Of the recorded law-enforcement “saves,” the average patient age was 29. Although the oldest was a 58-year-old woman; the youngest were three 19-year-old men.
Aside from heroin, OxyContin and other prescription opiates can cause overdose, Reihart said.
“Every patient we respond to is someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, sister or brother,” May said. “They all deserve the best of care and our compassion.”
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