BUCKHANNON — Municipal first responders will soon be taking the opioid epidemic plaguing the Mountain State into their own hands — quite literally.
At its meeting Thursday, Buckhannon City Council unanimously voted to approve equipping municipal first responders — including firefighters and police — with a form of naloxone, a life-saving drug that has been proven to reverse the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it binds to opioid receptors and reverses and/or blocks the effects of other opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Heroin and fentanyl are common forms of opioids drug users have become increasingly addicted to in recent years — often, with dire consequences. In fact, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled between 1999 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, West Virginia had the highest number of deaths from opioid overdose in the U.S., with 41.5 for every 100,000 people, CDC stats show. Other states that rank high in opioid deaths include New Hampshire (34.3 per 100,000 people), Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000 people), Ohio (29.99 per 100,000 people) and Rhode Island (28.2 per 100,000 people).
Mayor David McCauley said he’s long been a proponent of equipping first responders with naloxone because of its power to save lives.
“This is something that I have been advocating for some time, and hundreds of agencies across the country have been doing this for some time,” the mayor said Thursday. “The thing with [naloxone] is you want folks who know how to administer it.”
Three forms of naloxone exist, according to the NIDA: an injectable type that requires professional training; an auto-injectable form known as EVZIO; and NARCAN, a pre-filled, needle-free spray that’s administered through a patient’s nostrils while he or she lies on his or her back.
Lt. Doug Loudin with the Buckhannon Police Department said he believed the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department would be willing to supply both the opioid antagonist itself and training on the proper usage of naloxone to the city at no cost.
“The health department will do the training and supply the [naloxone] to us — that way we’re affiliated under their agency,” Loudin said.
McCauley asked Loudin what his officers thought of the idea of carrying naloxone.
Loudin said members of the BPD are already first aid and CPR-certified, so naloxone is just an added tool to help save lives.
“We are also trained to self-treat if we’re in an active shooter situation and we get wounded, the other officers have to continue on — they can’t stop and treat a fellow officer if they go down,” Loudin explained. “They have to go and neutralize a threat. So I mean, this is just an added benefit for us as well as for the community.”
McCauley said naloxone could also possibly save first responders’ lives, should they happen to come in contact with carfentanil, a drug that’s 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and is typically used to sedate large animals such as elephants, according to a National Public Radio article.
“You’ve heard these stories about this super-fentanyl (carfentanil) that is out there, where police officers and firefighters go into a situation and they accidentally brush up against somebody’s coat that has inadvertently had this powdery residue placed on it and within a couple minutes, you see the symptoms of an overdose,” McCauley said. “So this would have benefits not only if you found somebody on a park bench, but there are internal benefits that could befall us relative to our own first responders.”
McCauley said there are no known instances in which anyone has ever died as a result of naloxone administration.
“It’s a win-win kind of proposition,” he said. “And if we end up getting these doses for free and the training is free, why would we not do this?”
Councilwoman Mary Albaugh called the idea a “no-brainer.”
Councilwoman Pam Cuppari made a motion to equip all municipal first responders with naloxone, which was seconded by Albaugh before passing unanimously.
Loudin said city police chief Matt Gregory is in the midst of examining policies and procedures other law enforcement departments use relative to naloxone administration.
In other news, council:
*Approved a recommendation from the city Façade Committee to approve grant expenditures in the amount of $2,500 for improvements to the Opportunity House Inc.
*Discussed the fact that all four utility boards — the Water Board, the Waste Board, the Consolidated Public Works Board and the Sanitary Sewer Board — approved funding the new information/grants coordinator position. The city’s fifth enterprise fund, the general fund, will also fund part of the position, following city council’s vote to support the position last month.
*Voted to authorize McCauley to sign an agreement with the state of W.Va. Gateway West Phase I Engineering and Design project.