Firefighters in the largest city in western Massachusetts are now responding to emergency calls equipped with an opioid overdose reversal drug.
Springfield Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi said all frontline apparatus in each of the city’s eight firehouses now carry a supply of Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, a drug that can counter the deadly effects of an opioid overdose. The city’s firefighters have all been trained to administer it.
Calvi estimated Springfield firefighters encounter 5-6 drug overdoses a week, on average, as they respond to medical emergencies.
"Without Narcan being administered rapidly this could lead to the death of people who have overdosed on heroin or other opioids," said Calvi.
The ever widening availability of naloxone in the hands of first responders throughout Massachusetts is credited with decreasing the number of opioid-related deaths in the state in 2017 after a rapid five-year climb in the number of fatalities.
By outfitting with Narcan 13 emergency fire vehicles, which are strategically stationed throughout the city, and two district chiefs’ cars, it will greatly reduce the response time to get help to someone who is experiencing an overdose.
"Anytime there is a herion overdose, or opiod overdose there is a chance for a fatality," said Calvi.
"Now there is a chance for a save."
The Narcan for the Springfield Fire Department is being paid for by the office of Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni through a grant program. Calvi said the initial supply of Narcan cost about $2,000.
Paramedics with AMR, a private ambulance company, had been the only first responders carrying Narcan in Springfield. The firefighters’ union, as part of a new contract, agreed to be trained to administer the drug. Requiring Springfield police officers to carry Narcan is a subject of current contract negotiations with the patrolman’s union.
Mayor Domenic Sarno said putting the overdose antidote in the hands of public safety personnel will save lives.
"I think it is a great initiative and I really commend Commissioner Calvi," Sarno said.
At the City Hall news conference announcing the initiative, Sarno renewed his call for the state to provide funds for additional treatment beds in Springfield.
"That is what it takes," said Sarno. " You can't tell an addict ( who has just been saved from an overdose death) to hold on for two or three weeks. When they are ready ( to seek treatment) you have to grab them."
Earlier this year, Springfield’s health board declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency and called for establishment of a needle exchange program.
Sarno said he would support it only if it comes with additional services for addicts and their families.