As states react to the national opioid epidemic, prevention programs, education and specialized training is becoming more common throughout communities.
Jessica Eaddy, community outreach coordinator for Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, was in town this week to give an opioid crisis update and naloxone (Narcan) training at the Wilkinson Public Library. Narcan is a drug that counteracts life-threatening effects of an opiate or opioid overdose.
“No county is particularly immune,” Eaddy said Tuesday night during a community presentation. She also trained library staff Wednesday morning.
Stats for San Miguel County opioid overdose deaths aren’t available, Eaddy explained, adding exact numbers for smaller communities that experience a handful of such fatalities typically don’t have hard data since it may be possible to identify the victims. However, there is an overdose death every 8 hours and 40 minutes in Colorado, she said. Between 2002-14, there was a 500-plus percent increase in mortality from prescription pain medication abuse.
Whatever the number is, opioid and opiate-related emergencies do happen here, according to San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante, who has been an EMT for over 25 years.
“It’s synthetics, as well as natural organics that people are chopping up or shooting up,” he said.
Narcan is nothing new to paramedics. Local EMTs have been carrying naloxone nasal spray and IVs since before he became an EMT, Sante said. He’s also trained all local law enforcement in administering the antidote.
“I would say on average, one, two, three times a year we turn around an opioid or opiate overdose from someone that stopped breathing or nearly stopped breathing,” he said.
In December, a quick-thinking Mountain Village police officer, Nathan Santos, saved an unidentified man’s life by administering Narcan. Within minutes, the man, who reportedly ingested narcotics, regained consciousness.
Chief Chris Broady said his department has had to use Narcan “couple of times” since officers began carrying it in 2015.
“I view it as a valuable first step for law enforcement to have until EMTs get to the scene,” he said. “Generally, they are not too far behind on a response, but those first few seconds are invaluable to a possible good outcome.”
Narcan can reverse the potential fatal effects of numerous drugs, Sante explained, and has no dangerous side effects.
“It’s given for a lot of calls that we don’t know why someone is unconscious. It actually will block a lot of drug receptor sites. It’s not just opioids. It’s a super handy tool to have in your bag,” he said. “ … There are a lot of drugs that have their fingers in opioids like semi-synthetics. There are a lot of drugs we carry that’s not on anyone’s radar until shit hits the fan. Narcan’s one of them.”
He added, “We have saved many lives with Narcan over the years.”
In 2015, Senate Bill 15-053 passed, which expanded access to Narcan to the general public by allowing pharmacies to have naloxone standing orders.
Sunshine Pharmacy is one such pharmacy.
“We were just set up with the protocol from the state board so we can dispense it without a prescription. Basically, for anyone that wants it,” pharmacist Karen Hemphill explained.
She added it costs $140 for Narcan and one must fill out some forms, but other than that, anyone can walk in and ask for it. In the six months that it’s been available, Hemphill said she hasn’t dispensed any Narcan.
Most people get opioids from a household medicine cabinet, Eaddy explained, which is why proper disposal of unwanted medication is also important to prevention.
The Telluride Marshal’s Department has a safe disposal site, it’s the old library drop box, which is under 24-hour surveillance.