Is Narcan the Answer?
There has been a lot of talk recently in social media and the news about leaving Narcan behind after a reversal of an opioid overdose. A new voluntary program in Pittsburgh, PA allows the state to pay for Narcan atomizers that EMS can leave with friends and family of OD patients. The media buzz revolves around the idea that we are enabling this cycle of addiction; “There is some pushback that maybe you’re enabling the problem a little bit, but at least in the short term, reduce the chances that person is going to die and you create more opportunities to get them into treatment,” said Mark Pinchalk, patient care coordinator for Pittsburgh EMS.” (Media, 2018, para. 3) I agree with Mr. Pinchalk that as an EMS Provider we are not there to judge, we are there to render aid.
One of my early instructors said, “Scott, your purpose is to leave the patient better than the way you found them.” I have taken that long ago statement to heart ever since, trying to leave the patient better than the way I found them whether that is medically as in a Diabetic whose blood glucose I raise from 20mg/dl to 130mg/dl or the person who receives a ride to the hospital to be checked out. EMS is about providing care. When we use our own judgements or opinions on our patients, it impedes or influences the care we provide.
These particular cases seem to bring out strong opinions surrounding a delicate issue. Thousands of people die every year from Opioid overdoses. A healthy percentage of them get their start on prescription pain killers. So where do we help? How do we not judge going to the same address three or four times a week to treat the same person in the same situation? These are just some of the tough questions providers and services face every day in America. Although we are trying to hold back the tide with a broom, it is up to us to provide the same level of care each and every time, regardless of the person or situation.
Will leaving Narcan at the scene save lives? Yes, I believe so. Will it encourage more drug use? I can’t be sure. Time will tell.
In comparison, studies show making birth control available to teens actually reduces sexual activity and reported pregnancies. Consider 2017 data that shows “Among adolescent females aged 15 to 19, 42 percent report having sex at least once. For males, that number was 44 percent. The numbers have gradually dropped since 1988, when 51 percent of female and 60 percent of male teens reported having had sex.” (Welch, 2017, para. 4)
So for now, I encourage the opportunity, as the law allows, to provide Narcan, knowing it doesn’t make the problem go away. And I look forward to EMS impacting this youthful epidemic. How? Community Paramedicine are the resource to embrace. Just like any other frequent patient, community paramedics will help those get the services they need including the much-needed follow up care.
Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME, which recently launched a new learning platform. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings.
Media, C. (Ed.). (2018, Jan, 26th, 2018). Local EMS starts program to leave Naloxone with OD victims. WPXI.com. Retrieved from http://www.wpxi.com/news/top-stories/local-ems-starts-program-to-leave-naloxone-with-od-victims/689842523
Welch, A. (2017, June 22nd, 2017). Are today’s teens more responsible about sex? CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/teen-sex-trends-birth-control-cdc-report/