Originally published on EMS1
Wilson County EMS will begin rolling out a program to leave behind kits that contain naloxone and materials to help dispose of opioids after overdose calls.
WILSON COUNTY, N.C. — In the last six months, officials have seen an uptick in treating and responding to heroin and opioid overdoses in Wilson.
Wilson County Emergency Medical Services personnel administered naloxone — a lifesaving antidote that reverses on opioid overdose — to 33 patients from January to June, according to county data.
“If you add the naloxone administered by other responders, the number is even higher,” said Michael Cobb, Wilson County EMS director. Cobb said other responders include law enforcement agencies and Wilson Fire/Rescue Services, which have administered naloxone 15 times in addition to EMS during that same time period.
The number of overdoses in Wilson County jumped in 2019 when EMS saw a 65% increase, or 56 patients, compared to 2018 when EMS treated 34 patients for overdoses.
Wilson County EMS measures its statistics on how many times naloxone was effective, or measurably improved someone’s level of consciousness, officials say. These numbers don’t include how many people received naloxone from laypeople or those driven to the hospital.
Cobb said most overdoses are related to heroin and sometimes fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid.
EMS will roll out a program soon that could be lifesaving and life-changing for those who experience an overdose. When EMS personnel go out on an overdose call and treat a patient, they will also leave behind a kit. That kit includes a nasal dosage of naloxone, a plastic container to dispose of used needles and a packet that deactivates substances — pills, patches or liquid.
“We treat them and give them access to these and talk about local resources,” Cobb said. “The opposite of addiction is connection. We just want to let them know that there are connections out there, and there are people who want to help you.”
This program is in partnership with the Post-Overdose Response Team, which EMS leads, and the county’s Opioid Multidisciplinary Team. All the opioid initiatives in Wilson County, including the kits, are made possible through a grant funded by Eastpointe.
The kit also contains vital community information as well as a small resource card that lists numbers and resources for the individual responders treated and for family members who are also in need of resources.
EMS responders have already been leaving behind the small resource cards after an overdose call.
“Research and experience shows that not everybody is ready with their first experience,” said Candice Rountree, Wilson County DSS program manager and leader for the county’s Opioid Multidisciplinary Team. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted that card. It’s so important just for them to discreetly be able to put that away. Our message is whenever you’re ready, we’re here to help guide you through that process. There is never a wrong time.”
‘WE WANT TO INTERVENE AT ALL LEVELS’
Cobb said after first responders leave the kit, they will also ask the patient to sign an optional waiver that allows officials to follow up with the patient a few days later to offer help.
Officials hope to connect those individuals to resources including trained peer support specialists or recovery coaches.
Officials want the kits and small resource cards to be a symbol of hope for individuals so they know there’s someone in the community who cares and there’s a way to live a fulfilling life in recovery.
“We want to intervene at all levels,” Rountree said. “Prevention and community outreach, it’s all part of that continuum. We have a great network of partners at the table who are working together. They are invested in this.”
‘DON’T BE SCARED TO CALL FOR HELP’
North Carolina’s Good Samaritan law provides criminal and civil immunity to bystanders who call for emergency help and attempt to render aid during an overdose. Officials don’t want people to be afraid to reach out or have fear of being prosecuted when there’s a life-and-death situation.
“With overdoses being the way that they are, I want the readers to understand: Don’t be scared to call for help,” said Bert Hendricks, Wilson County EMS operations officer. “We are here to help you, and in order for us to help you, part of the that process is to make sure we get to you.”
Hendricks said when officials respond to overdose calls, they let the individuals know they’re glad that they called for help.
“Yes, law enforcement is going to be out here, but you did what you’re supposed to do,” Hendricks tells them. “You’re not going to be charged for this little bit of drugs. We want to talk to them to let them know they’re here to help; we’re here to help. They’re not here to lock you up.”
Naloxone is only effective on those who have used opioids, but it doesn’t harm those experiencing a different type of overdose. And if a person does have access to naloxone, don’t be afraid to use it in addition to calling 911, officials say.
“It can be a stressful moment,” Hendricks said, adding that those who administer naloxone should be aware that more than likely it will make the person experiencing the overdose throw up.
That’s why it’s vital to place a person on his or her side, Hendricks said. The person can become combative, too. But that’s normal, officials say, because the antidote blocks those opioid receptors.
“Try to talk them through the process by explaining you had to give them the Narcan because they had too much (heroin or opioids),” Hendricks said.
He said caretakers should also let people experiencing overdoses know they aren’t in trouble.
Wilson County began addressing the opioid crisis as a whole several years ago thanks to the Eastpointe grant. The Wilson County Department of Social Services is leading the effort. Multiple agencies, including community organizations, law enforcement, churches and government entities, jumped on board and formed a united front in combating the crisis.
Since then, several initiatives have been implemented and more are on the way.