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The area's first responder community is scrambling to put procedures in place now that emergency medical technicians are authorized to administer the drug commonly known as Narcan to patients who are overdosing on heroin or other opioids.
The state Department of Public Health notified emergency medical providers Friday that the scope of practice for all licensed Connecticut EMS providers had been expanded to include the administration, by nose spray, of naloxone hydrochloride.
The expansion, along with a new good Samaritan law signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Tuesday is part of the state's efforts to reduce the number of fatal heroin and prescription drug overdoses, which public health authorities said have increased dramatically in Connecticut in recent years to as many as one a day.
The good Samaritan legislation grants civil and criminal liability protection to a bystander who administers Narcan in good faith to someone who has overdosed. The law is aimed at nonmedical providers, including the loved ones of addicts who can obtain a prescription for the drug.
"As we work to implement strategies that will prevent overdoses and reduce over-prescribing, it is also imperative that we remove potential barriers to Narcan use," Malloy said in a press release. "This legislation may encourage someone to act to save a life and be the catalyst that causes someone battling addiction to seek treatment."
Area fire chiefs said they are awaiting further information on training for those who are newly authorized to carry the drug and noted the new law would also cost money to implement.
"I expect this will be a positive thing for the city, but it's still kind of new," said Chief Kenneth J. Scandariato of the Norwich Fire Department.
"It's in such an infancy, we don't know how it's going to impact our agencies," said Chief Henry Kydd of the New London Fire Department.
Ron Kersey, coordinator of Emergency Medical Services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, said privilege to administer Narcan can only be granted by sponsor hospitals to service providers. He said he asked regional medical directors at all of the hospitals in Eastern Connecticut - L+M, The William W. Backus Hospital, Windham Hospital and Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam - to issue their guidelines simultaneously.
"They're all working on trying to get together as quick as we can to start to review the procedures," Kersey said.
Meanwhile, he said, the region is already well-served by paramedics who have been administering Narcan for years.
The Good Samaritan Law builds on 2012 legislation that allowed doctors to provide naloxone prescriptions to those in close contact with heroin users or others struggling with opioid addiction.
"Drug related overdoses have increased significantly and are the leading cause of accidental deaths in Connecticut," said state Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford, the house chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in a press release. "Citizens should not fear prosecution in attempting to save a life. Enhancing access by allowing non-medical personnel to carry and administer Narcan, a drug overdose medication, is a step towards treating the epidemic we are experiencing. Saving lives while protecting good Samaritans is good policy."
Other efforts to combat fatal overdoses include rapidly linking addicts to methadone treatment programs, educating the public on the dangers of prescription drugs and heroin and sponsoring drug take-back days and prescription drug drop boxes to safely dispose of unneeded medication.
"We have not narrowly focused on one or two services but offer a broad spectrum of treatment and recovery support services," said Commissioner Patricia Rehmer of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Workers have been placed in "high need areas" so they are available to assist people who are ready for treatment, Rehmer said, and outpatient, residential and detox services are available along with peer support and recovery support. Those who need help can call 2-1-1 from anywhere in Connecticut for referrals to community resources.
The state Department of Consumer Protection has focused on limiting improper access to prescription drugs, according to its commissioner, William M. Rubenstein.
"The state's Prescription Monitoring Program is an important tool that helps pharmacists and prescribers assure that only medically necessary prescriptions are filled," Rubenstein said in a press release. "Our partnership with municipalities to provide convenient medication drop boxes takes no-longer-needed drugs out of homes and away from the easy reach of potential abusers."