In the past seven months the Community Ambulance Company has saved the lives of seven local residents thanks to its participation in a pilot program where medically trained personnel administer a nasal form Naloxone Hydrochloride — Narcan — to individuals overdosing on heroin.
According to James MacDonell, second assistant chief with the company, six men and one woman have been rescusitated.
“It’s a good and a bad kind of thing," he said. "There has been the positive impact of saving lives but then the number of overdoses are increasing."
The two-year pilot program, initiated by New York State Department of Health, allows EMT-Basics personnel and medically trained volunteers to administer nasal Narcan. Previously treatment was restricted to Advanced Life Support providers who used the more invasive intravenous method.
With the number of overdose incidents increasing, and the success rate rising with the new drug format, it is very likely the pilot program will end early and all emergency response organizations will soon be carrying nasal Narcan.
“In the months (since the program started) the number of overdose calls have been more than expected across Suffolk County, much higher numbers than initially thought, so it’s very likely the pilot will end early,” said McDonell.
There has been no official statement by the state health department on the future of the Narcan pilot program.
According to figures from the county, the number of deaths involving non-heroin opiates — mostly prescription painkillers — increased 70 percent between the years 2004 and 2011. Community Ambulance responded to more than 150 overdose alarms between March 2011 and March 2012.
The number of overdoses from 2012 to present is likely much higher than the previous year, according to ambulance officials, given there have also been life-saving incidents by local police that have been trained as well to give nasal Narcan.
The first overdose saves by the Fifth Precinct in Patchogue came within weeks of having Narcan available in patrol cars. Police Officer Kevin Rieppel saved two men in Sayville on January 28. A 25-year-old Bayport woman was saved by Suffolk Police in another precinct fitted with nasal Narcan in September 2012.