Narcan critical in fight against opioid epidemic

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FLINT (WJRT) (10/26/17) - President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency Thursday.

He has backed down from declaring it a national emergency. A national emergency would have allowed federal funds, usually reserved for disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes, to fight opioid abuse.

The health emergency designation will allow the Department of Health and Human Services to reallocate grant money.

Katie Baxter, the clinical services project manager with Flint's Genesee Health Systems, said if anything Trump's declaration is bringing awareness to the long-time problem.

"I think when we hear about this at a national level, people are willing to say, 'Wow this could be my daughter, my father, my cousin, anybody.' So it could be. So I think people are more willing to support the efforts," she said.

Baxter is looking forward to how the declaration will be rolled out. Although it doesn't come with additional funding, Baxter said it will allow more flexibility for how resources are utilized.

She said a lot of help is needed from prevention and education, to getting unused opiates out of homes with take back campaigns, to getting better rules in place for doctors prescribing pain medications.

Baxter would also like to see an emphasis on research, including taking a look at whether there's another way to address pain and generally how addiction is developed.

"It's also important that we have anti-stigma campaigns," Baxter said. "So that people understand that it's OK to seek help for an addiction. Some people stay away from getting help because of the fear or stigma, so that's really important."

As the number of opioid overdoses continues to increase, so does the availability of the reversal drug Narcan. Walgreens is now offering it over-the-counter in nasal spray form.

Most first responders carry it with them. They're sometimes having to re-stock during a shift because one dose of Narcan isn't always enough.

"It appears the drug, the actual heroin, is getting stronger or they're mixing it with other things," said Jacob Mounger with Mobile Medical Response.

He's been a paramedic with MMR for the past eight years and said their ambulance has always carried Narcan.

Mounger said the reversal drug wasn't always necessary. But now, teams are having to administer it on multiple calls every day.

"In the past, one dose would typically do it," he added. "Lately though, we have been noticing we have been having to give multiple doses to get people coming around and breathing again."

That means two, three or sometimes four doses of Narcan to revive a person.

In Genesee County in 2016, MMR paramedics responded to 380 overdose calls, administering 608 doses of Narcan.

So far in 2017, the number of overdose calls is up to 397 and paramedics have given those patients 589 doses of Narcan.

"It's very useful. It'll bring a completely unresponsive patient right around to normal," Mounger said.

Mounger can't remember if he's revived the same patient more than once, but he says he wouldn't be surprised.

So, could addicts be taking advantage of the accessibility of Narcan?

"It is a concern. It could easily become a crutch for some people," Mounger said. "But, I do think it's a good thing that people have access to it, because sometimes we can't respond quickly enough to get someone breathing again."

One of the best ways to help combat the problem is prevention.

National Drug Take Back Day is this Saturday. The public is encouraged to bring in unused prescription pills or patches to any police department.

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