WA: New program seeks to cut back on overdose deaths

Skagit County emergency medical providers can now leave opioid overdose patients with a supply of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

County EMS Director Josh Pelonio said this program will help save lives, and will hopefully help people find their way into programs to treat addiction.

Naloxone is easy to administer, and can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Pelonio said paramedics now have the option to leave a kit containing two doses when they respond to an overdose call.

The kit also includes information on addiction treatment options in the county in the hope that the paramedics can steer those who overdose into treatment.

“This really gives us the opportunity to have a conversation with people … about their substance use,” Pelonio said.

Allowing people to have naloxone on hand means it can be administered before paramedics arrive. If the drug is quickly given to someone who has overdosed, it will be more effective in preventing serious damage or death.

Pelonio said the strategy of this program is to reduce harm. He said those who are going to use opioids are going to do so regardless of whether they have naloxone, but expanding access to the drug can mitigate the damage an overdose can cause.

“If through this program we can prevent one death, then to me it’s worthwhile,” he said.

Pelonio said fatal opioid overdoses in the county increased from 15 in 2019 to 28 in 2020, making a program like this even more urgent.

The state Department of Health pays for the kits, he said.

Paramedics with the county’s four cities will be the first to participate in the program, but Pelonio said county EMS plans to re-evaluate monthly to see if the program should be expanded to include the county fire districts.

Pelonio said the county was inspired by seeing such a program used in Tacoma, and more recently in Whatcom County.

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Tags: Harm Reduction Naloxone Opioid Epidemic Overdose Programs" >Overdose
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