VFDs: overdoses seem to have plateaued

While the nation monitors news that the opioid crisis seems to have moderated this year, or at least the rate of accidental overdose deaths has plateaued, some volunteer EMS and fire departments in Washington County are seeing little change in the number of runs they make involving overdoses.

The demand for such runs varies from one township to another.

“Our runs haven’t gone down, and they haven’t gone up,” said Mark Wile, chief of the Warren Township department. “We get one every couple of months, so it’s not a lot of stress on us. We keep naxolone in the drug bags and have a few units ready to go when the call comes in.”

At the Devola department on Friday, Alex Ridenour said his crew gets one or two such calls every couple of months. Although that’s not much of an increase compared to a year ago, Ridenour has been with the department for five years and the contrast from when he started is significant.

“It was a rarity to see it then,” he said.

Now, each ambulance carries six doses of naxolone, he said.

Naxolone is an FDA-approved drug that temporarily relieves the respiratory depression effect of an opioid overdose. Use of the compound has been credited with saving thousands of lives, and it is now more readily available for consumers as well as physicians and other medical professionals.

The cost of the drug varies depending on what form it is purchased in, but volunteer fire department heads have said during the past two years that it has had a noticeable impact on their budgets.

Naxolone has been available as an over-the-counter drug in Ohio since the fall of 2015, but it took some time before it was widely available at pharmacies.

Because the overdose antidote has come into more common use, it might be that fewer people are calling ambulances as a remedy.

Reno Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dan Ritchey said this week his unit averages two to three runs a month, relatively unchanged from a year ago, but he conjectured that more overdose victims are being treated at home.

“I think we are holding about the same, I don’t think it’s gotten worse, but one thing that’s contributed to the picture is that people can buy (naxalone) now and give it to themselves,” he said. “They don’t want the squad to show up, because the police show up, too.

“I’m not sure the epidemic is any better, they’re just treating themselves,” he said.

Ritchey said his squad makes about 80 runs a month in total for calls of all kinds.