First responders in Everett and Somerville will be trained and equipped with a drug that counteracts heroin overdoses and could save lives.
The cities have reached an agreement with Cambridge Health Alliance to provide medical oversight and a doctor to serve as medical director for the distribution of Narcan to its police officers and firefighters. Cataldo Ambulance Service, the ambulance provider for both cities, will conduct training for administering the drug.
Narcan is a nasally applied version of the drug naloxone. It helps reverse the effects of an overdose of heroin or other opioid and has saved many lives.
Both communities had previously sought to join a state Department of Public Health pilot program established in 2006 that provides a medical director to oversee the distribution of the drug, but neither was accepted.
Ambulance emergency medical technicians are already equipped with the drug in Everett and Somerville, but firefighters or police officers often arrive at emergency scenes first, officials said.
“We’ve had a lot of success in treating overdoses when Cataldo arrived, but they aren’t always there first,” said Denise Taylor, spokeswoman for the city of Somerville. “We tried for the pilot program, but because it’s based on an overdose death rate; we were not eligible.”
The cities will purchase Narcan for $23 per dose, at cost from Cambridge Health Alliance, Taylor said. Police officers and firefighters are expected to be trained in coming weeks and equipped with the drug by April, she said.
Assaad Sayah, chief medical officer for Cambridge Health Alliance, said he had met with officials from both cities several times in recent weeks and was pleased to help.
“We are here to take care of our community, and this is part of it,” Sayah said.
Sayah said he already provides Narcan to other organizations and has extensive experience providing emergency responders with medical oversight.
“I don’t think this should be any different,” he said.
A state increase in heroin overdoses in recent months has brought attention to Narcan and has prompted communities outside of the state pilot program to look into ways to become equipped. Brockton, Norwood, and Watertown are among the communities that recently equipped emergency responders with the drug.
Since last June, Somerville, Everett, Watertown, and Cambridge have been working in a collaborative aimed at fighting opioid overdoses.
The jump in overdoses last month prompted action in Everett, Fire Chief David Butler said.
“Access to Narcan is something we’ve actively pursued,” he said.
Overdose data were not available in Everett, but Somerville has seen a decline in opioid overdoses in recent years, according to data from 911 reports. A total of 27 overdoses were reported in 2011, followed by 10 in 2012 and 11 last year, according to Patty Contente, clinical youth specialist for the city of Somerville.
“It’s a significant concern; every community is vulnerable to this,” Contente said. “We’ve been fortunate that we’re not seeing spikes, but we don’t want to take any risks. It makes sense to be vigilant about it.”Jarret Bencks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.