TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The opioid epidemic is becoming a leading causes of death in young people and the coronavirus is not helping. The Tucson Fire Department has a new program to combat the growing problem.
“When an individual overdoses it is a really scary thing,” said Dr. Josh Gaither the Medical Director at the Tucson Fire Department. "They’re unconscious they’re not responsive they may not be breathing or they may be gasping for air. "
Every time Dr. Gaither responds to an opioid overdose that’s what he walks into. And, he says things have changed since the opioid epidemic met the covid pandemic.
“People are afraid to go to the hospital,” said Dr. Gaither. “That particularly applies to individuals who have over dosed on opiates.”
Determined to meet the new problem with a solution, Dr. Gaither came up with the idea of the leave behind Narcan program.
“If they overdose an opiate and refuse to go to the hospital, we as Tucson fire department can give them a dose of Narcan,” said Dr. Gaither. “Maybe next time their friend can give it to them.”
“Naloxone goes right into the nasal cavity,” said Elisa Gumm the Addiction Medical Director at Southern Arizona’s VA. “It auto administers the medication into the nose.”
Gumm says there is also a form Narcan that can be stabbed into a large muscle like the glut. She says the drug is simple to use and there is even YouTube videos on how to administer it.
“10 percent of people who wake up after an overdose will die within one year,” said Dr. Gaither. “Our goal is to reduce the death rate for opiate overdoses in our community.”
Dr Gaither says TFD will not be able to immediately measure the effectiveness of the program by a decrease in deaths if friends and family members are willing to administer the lifesaving drug.
“This is critically important to the health and wellbeing in our community,” said Dr. Gaither. “Both down here in Tucson and statewide”
TFD says they have 120 doses of Narcan to leave with those in need. He says if the program is successful, they will expand where necessary.