Local fire rescue to launch campaign against opioid crisis, starting with non-opioid alternatives

Rescue will have medicine in ambulances in Sept.

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — One Tampa Bay area fire rescue will be the first local department to launch a three-prong campaign against the opioid crisis. Their first phase is providing alternatives to opioids for pain treatment.

It is part of an effort to give you better options in the ongoing fight against opioid addiction.

In just a year span, Pasco County Fire Rescue gave out Narcan, the overdose reversal drug, 1,200 times. That is about three times a day. These include patients who have overdosed or those who took too much medication by mistake.

In Pasco County, they are seeing a 10%  increase of Narcan use every year.

“It’s very sad, it’s very stunning," said Ryan Guynn, a captain paramedic for the agency, "Our sheriff’s offices are running around with Narcan. We’re running around with Narcan now. It’s an issue.”

Pasco County Fire Rescue is now taking steps to keep the addiction from happening in the first place.

The problem is that patients with pain in the back of 66% of Florida ambulances will only have three solutions: opioids, ice or nothing. That figure comes from polling done of fire departments around the state.

Only one out of three of them are using non-opioid alternatives, leaving paramedics with little options.

The initiative to bring alternative medicine to the rescues was spearheaded by County Commission Chairman Mike Wells.

By mid-September every Pasco County Fire Rescue ambulance will carry a non-opioid alternative. Think of something like Tylenol but in IV form. It is not just for preventing addictions.

“We can now open doors and treat patients that we couldn’t before," said Guynn. 

He is talking about patients who receive no pain medication at all because the pain, while there, just isn’t bad enough for Fentanyl or morphine.

“Like a chronic back problem that has flared up and they’re in a position where they can’t move," said Timothy Reardon, rescue chief of Pasco Fire Rescue.

This alternative medicine also comes useful for patients with a family history of addiction. Chief Reardon says it's common for these patients to refuse opioids.

Fighting the opioid epidemic is nothing new for the county. Pasco County stands behind a lawsuit against some of the largest drug makers in the nation. The suit blames the companies for misrepresenting the dangers of opioids. They also accuse distributors of allowing a large amount of the drugs to be sold to the public. 

With these non-opioid alternatives, Pasco Fire Rescue is hoping other agencies will follow their lead.

“We want to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem," said Reardon.

"The opioid medication would be used on fractures, obvious trauma, burns; things of that nature when you know there's no possible way this is a mild or moderate pain for the patient."

The rollout will come at a price tag of about $70,000 and is part of a larger campaign to fight the opioid-crisis.

As part of their campaign, Pasco Fire Rescue will also include a purple flag counter on its website tracking overdose calls in real-time. Plus, whenever they do administer Narcan, paramedics will connect the family of the patients with Narcotics Anonymous who can offer additional treatment options.

ABC Action News has edited this piece to clarify that although other area fire departments currently use non-opioid alternatives, Pasco County Fire Rescue touts itself as first in the Bay to launch this large of an educational and medicinal campaign toward the opioid fight.

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