Recognizing and Supporting EMS Providers with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
By Meredith M. O’Neal, MA; Simone Joannou, MA; and James Langabeer, PhD, EMT
About 30 percent of first responders develop mental health disorders, including depression, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population.3 Another common occupational risk factor includes acute and chronic exposure to both primary and secondary trauma, the latter referring to the phenomenon of emotional and moral attachment to the experience of the individuals they rescue.
These overwhelming demands from first responders can lead to compassion fatigue, a depleted capacity for empathy that results in various behavioral issues including depression and anxiety. Burnout is a similar phenomenon of exhaustion resulting from occupational strain such as overwork and lack of support from leadership. These conditions have been found to directly contribute to the more than doubled suicide rates among medics than other professionals.
Often the first on the scene, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) working within the Opioid Treatment Ecosystem do more than administer naloxone, CPR, and ambulance transport. In Monroe County, Opioid Treatment Ecosystem initiative partner Emergent Health takes a team approach to overdose patients that includes law enforcement, medical providers, and mental health services.
“Unfortunately, opiate abuse is an addiction disease that’s a tough habit for people to overcome. We do see some people on a lot more frequent basis than we’d like,” says Karl Rock, vice president of south central operations for Emergent Health, which oversees Monroe Community Ambulance and Jackson Community Ambulance. “It is really [impacting] everybody, one of those diseases that spans all demographics, ages, race, economic status, everything.”
The AAA is pleased to report that language we supported on grant funding for opioid protection training for first responders has passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate and is now headed to the President’s desk.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act with a bipartisan vote of 98-1 in the last necessary needed action before being signed into law by the President. The impact of this legislation on the ambulance industry includes providing resources and training so that first responders and other key community sectors, including emergency medical services agencies, can appropriately protect themselves from exposure to drugs such as fentanyl, carfentanil and other dangerous licit and illicit drugs. $36,000,000 will be given annually for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023. The bill also gives $10,000,000 in supplemental competitive grants to areas that have a record of high seizure of fentanyl to be used toward training of law enforcement and other first responders on how best to handle fentanyl as well as to purchase protective equipment, including overdose reversal drugs.
Lastly, the legislation allows the Department of Labor to award grants to states that have been heavily impacted by the opioid crisis in order to assist local workforce boards and local partnerships in closing the gaps in the workforce for mental health care and substance use disorder. Based on an analysis by counsel, we believe all ambulance service agencies would be eligible to apply for the described grants. It is encouraging to see both parties and chambers come together to pass legislation that takes steps to better our country as a whole and finally help address this growing public health emergency. The President is expected to sign the legislation into law.
The AAA continues to push on policy issues important to our members we are happy to provide an update on two pieces of legislation that we have been actively monitoring. Congress is proceeding with consideration of several legislative vehicles as they address key topics prior to the November elections.
First Responder Opioid Grant Program
The AAA is pleased to report that language we supported on grant funding for opioid protection training for first responders has passed the Senate. Based on an analysis by counsel, we believe all ambulance service agencies would be eligible to apply for the grants.
In 2017, the Administration officially labeled the Opioid Crisis as a public health emergency, and in response Congress has finally taken action. On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act with a bipartisan vote of 99-1. The impact of this legislation on the ambulance industry includes providing resources and training so that first responders and other key community sectors, including emergency medical services agencies, can appropriately protect themselves from exposure to drugs such as fentanyl, carfentanil and other dangerous licit and illicit drugs. $36,000,000 will be given annually for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023. The bill also gives $10,000,000 in supplemental competitive grants to areas that have a record of high seizure of fentanyl to be used toward training of law enforcement and other first responders on how best to handle fentanyl as well as to purchase protective equipment, including overdose reversal drugs.
Lastly, the legislation allows the Department of Labor to award grants to states that have been heavily impacted by the opioid crisis in order to assist local workforce boards and local partnerships in closing the gaps in the workforce for mental health care and substance use disorder. Counsel has provided us with an analysis that all types of ambulance service organizations would be eligible for the described grants. While this legislation is not a solution to every aspect of the opioid crisis our country is currently experiencing, it is an important first step in providing resources to the ambulance industry and others to help combat this public health emergency.
Rural EMS Grant Program
The AAA is diligently working on amending the SIREN Act (S. 2830, H.R. 5429) which would reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program. In an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants. The AAA will continue to work to ensure that all provider types will be able to apply for these grants.
Language similar to the SIREN Act has been included in the Farm Bill (S. 3042/ H.R. 2) that passed both the House and Senate. The Farm Bill is now in Conference Committee between the House and Senate to reconcile differences before final passage. Over the past weeks, the AAA has been pressing Senator Durbin as well as other co-sponsors and Farm Bill conferees to revise the language to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants. Our team has met with all co-sponsors of the House and Senate SIREN Act Bills as well as members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee to ensure that they are well informed of the impact this legislation will have on their local providers.
The AAA team has also been conducting targeted outreach to AAA members asking them to get involved by contacting their Members of Congress, especially those on the Conference Committee. It is important for Congress to hear that grants like this one, should be open to all provider types. We thank those members who have already sent letters to their representatives. With Congress trying to wrap up the Farm Bill by the end of September – although looking unlikley, the AAA is pushing hard to change the current language and make sure that all providers might have access to these grants once they are reauthorized.
The AAA will continue to keep you updated on any new developments.
The explosion of the opioid epidemic that is responsible for thousands of overdoses and deaths is a consistent problem that EMS and law enforcement encounter on an almost daily basis. Usually, the victims of these powerful drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, are opioid users, who EMS personnel and law enforcement are regularly called to assist. However, first responders are also being warned about the increased risks they face of being exposed to these deadly drugs, specifically fentanyl—a popular synthetic opioid that is 40 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. To respond to these dangers, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a field guide called “Fentanyl: A Brief Guide for First Responders” for EMS and police who find themselves responding to opioid-related calls.
“We need everybody in the United States to understand how dangerous this is,” Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg warned. “Exposure to an amount equivalent to a few grains of sand can kill you.”
The warnings have become more urgent in recent months due to numerous cases of accidental overdoses and exposures involving EMS and police.
In May, Chris Green, a police officer with the East Liverpool Police Department, was accidentally exposed to fentanyl during a routine traffic stop after he inadvertently ingested the drug through his skin. Green needed four shots of Narcan, an emergency overdose medication, to be revived after collapsing from the effects of the drug. In another case, two Paramedics and a sheriff’s deputy in Hardford County, Maryland, were treated after showing signs of opioid exposure while treating an overdose victim.
“It is important to get the word out to everyone because it may be the first responder who needs to have Narcan administered,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen.
The risks of accidental exposure are so high, in fact, that some emergency personnel have even begun carrying Narcan kits for drug-sniffing K-9s, just in case the dogs ingest the deadly drugs.
The DEA guide, along with a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health manual on preventing fentanyl exposure, suggests certain precautions be taken to lower the risk of coming in direct contact with the substance. Personnel should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose, be aware of the ways fentanyl can be ingested, and only allow trained professionals to handle substances that are suspect.
“Assume the worst,” Rosenberg said. “Don’t touch this stuff or the wrappings that it comes in without the proper personal protective equipment.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $70 million in grants to help communities and health care professionals combat the ongoing opioid crisis that is ravaging communities across the U.S. The majority of the money will be used to help prevent opioid-induced deaths and to provide treatment for people with opioid use disorders, including $28 million allotted for medication-based treatment. More than 33,000 lives were claimed in 2015 due to opioid overdoses.
$41.7 million of the funding is set to expand resources and training for first responders on how to use emergency treatments, such as Narcan, to help reverse and treat overdoses. In many cases, first responders are often the difference between life and death for opioid users who experience an overdose, so it is imperative health care professionals have access to the needed resources and training to help save lives. The additional funding aims to help paramedics, EMTs and other emergency service personnel gain access to much-needed resources.
“The grants we announce today clearly demonstrate our efforts to meet the opioid crisis with every tool at our disposal,” said Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Kana Enomoto. “The evidence-based training, medication, and behavioral therapies provided here will save lives and help people with addictions start a path toward reaching their potential.”
Each year, the American Ambulance Association honors best practices, ingenuity, and innovation from EMS providers across the country with our AMBY Awards.
Trinity EMS & FirstWatch Opioid Epidemic Project Awarded a 2016 AMBY for Best Use of Technology
Trinity EMS & FirstWatch | Massachusetts
Massachusetts has seen a massive increase in opiate overdoses and deaths. In 2013 there were 918 opiate related deaths in Massachusetts. Massachusetts had 1531 deaths in the first six months of 2016. Many of the communities Trinity EMS serves are on the front lines of this issue. Their EMT’s and paramedics are helping to revive patients every day from an opiate overdose. Understanding the scope of an issue is a critical first step to solving an issue. They started using their PCR data to help frame the issue for their communities. They began tracking the demographics such as age and gender of the patients, time of day and day of the week, and location within the communities. They also monitor the volume to identify spikes in volume in individual communities and system wide. Trinity reported data monthly, one month behind to the health department, public safety partners, methadone clinics, hospitals and city governments. This data was well received. Other services contacted them for help in developing their tracking and reporting. They added FirstWatch to their program to speed up the notifications. Monthly reporting is still valuable. Instant reporting is even better. FirstWatch allows their communities to be notified within an hour of an opiate overdose. Public health and public safety now have this intelligence right away.
The goal was to gather and present data in a cross discipline format for aid with better understanding on the situation. First responders, law enforcement, public health, EMS, and district attorneys, and the press have received and used their data. Trinity wanted to show:
The profile of the patients we are seeing
The frequency of the patients
The location and time of the overdoses
The severity of the patients. (Our volume of overdoses have leveled off, the acuity of the patents is still increasing)
Our monthly report is a key performance indicator as to the opiate issue at the street level in our communities
Our needle pick up data indicated where outdoor intravenous drug use is happening
Many of the overdose calls to the 911 centers are not communicated as being overdoses; “fall”, “respiratory”, “unconscious” are common chief complaints at dispatch. This data would not have been collected and reported using chief complaint as a filter
When it became clear the opiate issue was becoming a wide spread crisis Trinity started working the issue. They knew their best area to provide data from was PCRs. They came up with a set of data points they thought would help. They attended many meetings and public events. During those forums dozens of additional questions and theories came forward. Trinity took and implemented all that they had data for. (Example. There was question about social benefits and opiate use. They are able to show on an ongoing basis that there is no correlation between opiate overdoses and the 1st and 15th of the month.)
Before 2015, Trinity reported opiate overdoses usually annually only when requested. Starting in 2015 they reported monthly. They wanted to provide data even quicker. Trinity had seen FirstWatch a few years before. They felt the speed and automation FirstWatch could provide was a critical improvement. The intelligence gathered with knowing in live time of opiate overdoses can’t be overstated. The automation allows that intelligence to be gathered no matter the day or time.
Trinity started working with FirstWatch in December 2015. In May 2016, Trinity put FirstWatch directly into the hands of public health, public safety and public schools. Each discipline has a HIPAA compliant login with access to data specific to their mission. They worked very closely with FirstWatch so they could understand the capabilities within the system. They brought the idea and FirstWatch brought the execution and focus. The FirstWatch platform is amazingly powerful for Trinity, to provide live access is amazing. In June 2016, Trinity participated in a Middlesex County District Attorney opiate task force meeting. Trinity had earlier in the meeting done a 20 minute presentation on the opiate crisis in our city. This provided the 70 people in attendance a fresh look at the data. Towards the end of the meeting conference to alert families and friends of addicts to watch their loved ones, and scheduled “emergency” Narcan administration training for the community. During DA Ryan’s presentation, Trinity received a FirstWatch alert for a 39 year old female opiate overdose from 30 minutes before. Three minutes later they received another alert for a 41 year old female that suffered a fatal opiate overdose. They were able to share that with the group and drive home the DA’s message.
The City Governments, Public Health, Police and Fire Departments in Trinity’s communities were eager to learn about the data they were able to collect, and their data began to become focal points at press conferences and city council meetings. News agencies began contacting Trinity to help paint the picture of the epidemic in feature stories. In sharing the mapping aspect of Firstwatch they hope that these agencies can further understand the epidemic and develop plans to combat it. Trinity has become the de facto subject matter experts of the opiate crisis.
Congratulations to Trinity EMS and FirstWatch for their selection as 2016 AMBY Winners.