Heroin antidote was 3rd most common medicine Providence firefighters gave in ’16

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The “miracle drug” used to treat people who have overdosed on opioids passed aspirin on the list of the most common medications Providence firefighters administered in 2016, trailing only normal saline and oxygen.

Naloxone, an antidote for overdoes commonly known as Narcan, was administered 794 times by city firefighters last year, according to an annual report published by department. The drug was used in 8.25% of the 9,620 incidents where medication was needed in 2016.

Normal saline, often used to treat dehydration, was administered in 34% of the incidents and oxygen was given 22% of the time, the report states. Aspirin, which is typically used to address cardiovascular problems, was given in 7.8% of the incidents.

“Aspirin has been the front line cardiac medicine forever and we give that a ton,” Zachariah Kenyon, the acting rescue chief of the Providence Fire Department, told Eyewitness News. “For that to happen, it’s an eye opener that we do have a real problem in New England and in the country with this abuse of opioids.”

Kenyon said opioid-related overdoses have been “consistently high for the last couple of years” in Providence, with firefighters reporting to treat victims “multiple times” per day in “every part of the city.”

Parent Guide: Signs of Drug Abuse >>
Parent Guide: Signs of Drug Abuse »

The fire department’s use of Narcan jumped by 42% between in 2015 and 2016, according to an Eyewitness News review of figures reported by the department. The number of opioid-related deaths in all of Rhode Island climbed from 290 in 2015 to 336 last year, according to the R.I. Department of Health.

Kenyon said the fire department has always had access to Narcan, but the increase in the availability of the medication to police and private citizens means there are “probably a lot more [overdoses] than we know about it.”

“Narcan is a great drug,” he said. “It does bring people back almost instantly. It’s almost like a miracle drug.”

Heroin and other opioids remain a big business for criminals in Providence. In May, Providence Police announced the arrests of 30 people involved in a large-scale heroin and fentanyl trafficking ring. The leaders of the operation were based in Providence, but police said many of the individuals arrested were from small-time dealers from Massachusetts who came to the city because heroin costs less in Rhode Island.

In March, Providence Police announced they had busted up a million-dollar drug operation in the city, recovering three-and-a-half kilograms of cocaine, three kilograms on fentanyl and more than 600 grams of heroin.

But even with police placing a special focus on heroin dealers, the overdoses keep coming. Two weeks after the March bust, police reported using Narcan on two drivers on two consecutive days. One of the incidents involved a man who crashed his vehicle into a restaurant on Plainfield Street.

Kenyon said he’s most concerned about the other drugs that are being sold to people seeking to buy heroin, including fentanyl and carfentanyl. He said the other drugs are more potent.

“The strength of the drugs is the scary thing now,” he said. “People are taking the drugs and they don’t know what’s in it and they’re dying.”

Kenyon encouraged anyone seeking to help to go to a new opioid clinic opened by Lifespan at 200 Corliss Street. He said families and friends of potential addicts should “reach out and prevent the problem before it exists.”

No matter what, Kenyon said, the fire department is ready to jump into action.

“We’re glad to help at all times,” he said. “But those are runs we’d rather not be a part of because that means someone’s got a serious issue in their life.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan