A few days ago, Police Chief Gary MacNamara said, an emergency call to police reported that a Fairfield resident was overdosing on heroin. Luckily, he said, when first responders arrived at the scene, the overdose victim had already started to regain consciousness.
But when that doesn't happen, local police, firefighters and EMTs will soon be able to dispense naloxone, also known as narcan, to block the effects of opiates and help a victim to breathe again.
Firefighter Jerry McGuire and AMR paramedic Bill Schietinger began working with state Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134, a few months ago to change state regulations. Previously, only paramedics were allowed to carry and use naloxone.
"Within three to four weeks, I got a call that everything was moving forward," McGuire told a press conference Thursday at Fire Department headquarters. "We did a lot of leg work and got it approved, and we're going to see it carried on fire trucks probably by Sept. 1."
Addiction, McGuire said, is everywhere. "This will be a big tool for us to have," he said.
And allowing trained first responders to administer the naxolone means the antidote to an opiate overdose can be given to a victim in a matter of minutes. "It's a reversing agent for the opiate or narcotic," Schietinger said. "It allows the victim to start breathing on their own."
"That's a big deal," McGuire said. "That's going to save a lot of lives."
Naloxone is a non-addictive drug that binds to and blocks opiate receptors, temporarily reversing the effects of a heroin overdose. According to the state's chief medical examiner's office, 257 people died in Connecticut last year from heroin-related overdoses, up from 174 in 2012.
MacNamara stressed this doesn't mean the police are backing off from enforcing laws on illegal drugs. "Our goal is to prevent drug use," he said, "but we welcome the opportunity to save a life."
The naloxone is a safety net, First Selectman Michael Tetreau said. "We don't want to get to the safety net; we want to do it with prevention," but when that doesn't happen, the safety net is available.
McGuire said officials are still reviewing how the first responders will administer the naxolone, either via an intranasal spray or epipen-type injection.