EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) - The state Department of Health Services is trying a one-year pilot program involving a narcotic antidote in an effort to prevent overdose deaths.
The emergency medical technicians of 47 agencies statewide will be allowed to administer the narcotic antidote naloxone, widely known by the brand name Narcan, according to the Leader-Telegram.
"Early intervention is critical when someone has overdosed, so making naloxone available to these front-line providers is an important part of efforts to reduce deaths related to narcotic overdose," Karen McKeown, the state health officer, said in a news release.
It's injected to counter the breathing difficulties, low blood pressure and other effects from an overdose of heroin or prescription opiate pain relievers.
Under current state policy, only advanced life support EMTs can administer naloxone with overdose patients.
State agencies have been sounding the alarm about a surge in the use of heroin and abuse of other opiates in recent years, with the rate of overdose-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits nearly quadrupling since 2002 and hitting a total 1,193 in 2011.
Pre-hospital naloxone deployments by authorized EMS agencies in Wisconsin rose 28 percent from 2,915 in 2010 to 3,730 in 2012, according to a 2013 report from the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. Despite those efforts, the report indicated opiate-related deaths in the state are on the rise and totaled about 460 in 2011.
Jody Stoker, EMS division chief for the Black River Falls Fire Department, a participant in the pilot program, said their EMTs have been dependent on delivering overdose victims to the hospital in time to receive the injections. The service typically responds to about a half-dozen opiate overdoses annually, he said.
"It's kind of like buying insurance for us," Stoker said. "If it's something we need to use and we don't have it, it's a bad thing because it can save a life. It's one more tool in our toolbox."
A final report on the pilot's outcomes will be released in early 2015. If the outcomes are favorable, a statewide rollout will be implemented.
Meanwhile, the state Legislature is considering an anti-heroin package that includes a bill that would allow anyone to possess or transfer naloxone, permit first responders and basic EMTs with proper training to administer the drug, and provide immunity from legal liability for anyone who gives it.
The Assembly's criminal justice committee approved the package Thursday, although it still would have to be approved by the full Assembly and Senate and signed by the governor before becoming law.