Recently over two dozen first responders attended a training on administering Naloxone, a drug that works to stop opiate overdoses. Participants included first responders from Michigan State Police, Grosse Pointe, Inkster, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Melvindale, Detroit Fire Department, Detroit EMS and Detroit Transit Police. The training was held by the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority’s (DWMHA) Substance Use Disorder department, and administered by DWMHA Chief Medical Officer, Dr. McIntyre.
“Some people may say, “Who cares about the druggies?” but drug poisoning deaths have increased 742% since 1999,” said Dr. McIntyre. “Opiates are everywhere. It’s not a “white drug,” it’s not a “black drug.”” Heroin use has become an epidemic in Michigan. Currently, opiates are the number one killer of females ages 15-35, with Native Americans having the highest death rate overall.
Opioids are effective painkillers that also induce feelings of sleepiness and euphoria. Over a third of those dying from opioids have prescriptions from five or more doctors. Further problems arise when the federal production limit for prescription opioids has been reached, and people realize they can get their high from heroin – typically cheaper and faster, as well. Wayne County has an opioid death rate above the state average, costing us economically, costing us precious loved ones.
Bryon Beals of the Detroit Fire Department said this way of treating overdoses “keeps the community involved.” The good of the community is, after all, the heart of both DWMHA and first responders’ missions.
Opioids are depressants, meaning they slow down bodily functions, as opposed to stimulants, which speed them up. They block the natural dopamine checks and balances in the brain, sending feelings of pleasure and reward into overdrive. Over time, the body adapts to produce less of these receptors in the brain, which is why people feel the need to chase getting high the longer they’ve been using.
“This system will slow down your diaphragm,” said Dr. McIntyre. “Pretty soon you stop breathing. When you stop breathing, your muscles shut down, and those muscles include your heart. That’s how opioids cause death.” But compared to other drugs, such as cocaine, opioid overdoses are a slower process. That’s where Naloxone comes into play.
Naloxone binds to the body’s opioid receptors, blocking the effects of opioids. When administered during the correct timeframe during an overdose, this treatment can be life-saving, enabling people to get the longer-term treatment they need and deserve. Naloxone is an ideal treatment because individuals can neither get high on it nor abuse it, and it has no effect on individuals without opioids in their system.
One myth that risks the lives of those who have overdosed is the belief that if an acquaintance calls 911, they will both go to jail. In reality, life-saving is the priority of first responders in the field. Additional fear of judgment, stigmatization, and other punitive measures, such as losing financial aid or social security, can literally kill.
Detroit Fire Department’s Michael Furby volunteered to take part in Dr. McIntyre’s demonstration as she showed first responders how to properly position the body of a person who has overdosed. Correctly placing the person’s body is important in order to prevent harm to both the individual who has overdosed and oneself. She also demonstrated how to assemble and administer the Naloxone, which takes the form of a nasal spray.
Wrapping up her presentation, Dr. McIntyre told participants, “We’re both in the business of saving lives. We just do it a little differently.” The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is the largest Community Mental Health organization in the state, serving 100,000 with substance use disorders, mental illnesses, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and children with serious emotional disturbances.
Each police officer received two Naloxone kits at the end of the training, with two doses per kit. Because the doses last 30-90 minutes, administering a second dose may be necessary for individuals with higher amounts of opiates in their system to ensure they don’t go back into overdose. The certificates earned during the training will also allow first responders to replace their kits once both have been used.
Officer Robert Kennaley (owner of the police K-9 “Spence” who also attended) of the Melvindale Police Department, said, “Before we had to wait for the Fire Department and could only provide regular patient care, and now that we’re able to get there first and give life-saving techniques, it’s phenomenal.” His dog, Spence, has been on the force with Kennaley for two years.
If you or someone you know is in need of substance use services, contact DWMHA’s 24-Hour Help Line at 800-241-4949.
Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (http://www.dwmha.com). He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or followed on twitter at: @tdwatkins88