Port Alberni’s first responders now have one more tool in their belt to tackle overdoses.
“We completed our training for Narcan and we do have the kits currently on the trucks,” said Port Alberni Fire Department Deputy Chief Wes Patterson. Narcan is administered via syringe by emergency personnel.
Narcan is the brand name for a form of naloxone, a drug used to treat opioid overdoses. Previously, the use of Narcan was restricted to paramedics.
“It’s the same training as the paramedics would get for administering Narcan. It’s done under the direction of a [BC Ambulance Service] physician that’s on call,” said Patterson.
“The crew has to determine the nature of the overdose and then call in and speak to the physician, get his permission to administer the Narcan.
“It won’t work on a different drug than a narcotic.”
Narcan can be administered to help patients overdosing on fentanyl, Patterson added.
It cannot, however, help with overdoses caused by stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines.
The Port Alberni Fire Department (PAFD) is the first fire department in the Alberni Valley to receive Narcan training.
“We have seen overdoses within the city and we’re seeing an increase throughout the province. The training was offered and has been allowed by EMA licencing and so we felt it was in our best interests to provide that level of service to the community,” said Patterson.
Overdose deaths have been on the rise throughout the province over the past decade. According to a report by the BC Coroners Service illicit drug caused overdoses have more than doubled province-wide—from 202 in 2007 to 505 in 2015.
For the first seven months of 2016, overdose deaths have already reached 433. Fentanyl was detected in 54 of those deaths, usually mixed with other drugs such as cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamine and heroin.
While the BC Coroners Service would not release Port Alberni specific stats due to privacy concerns, the report shows that the problem has reached the Island. Overdose deaths in Nanaimo in 2015 were almost 10 times what they were in 2007—up to 19 from only two. From January through July 2016, Nanaimo has already seen 19 illicit drug overdose deaths. Fentanyl was deemed a factor in 13 of those deaths and between January 2012—June 2016, Nanaimo had the third-highest number of fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdoses in the province.
Island-wide, 71 per cent of the apparent illicit drug overdose deaths showed fentanyl involvement.
Nanaimo fire crews received Narcan training earlier this year and Island Health has implemented a Take Home Naloxone program at Nanaimo General Hospital.
A response from Island Health regarding the program’s implementation in Port Alberni was not available by press time.