ICYMI: Revere firefighters widening fight on opiates
By Laura Crimaldi • GLOBE STAFF MAY 18, 2015
REVERE — In 2011, Revere’s fire department became the first in the nation to stock its trucks with naloxone, a powerful drug that can reverse opiate and heroin overdoses.
After four years and hundreds of lives saved, however, Fire Chief Gene Doherty said that’s not enough. Now he’s launching an outreach effort that aims to stop the cycle of drug users overdosing, then being saved, only to revert back to drug use.
“You’re getting to the point where the numbers are so crazy, you’re saying, ‘What else are you going to do?’ ” Doherty said Friday. “We’re spinning our wheels.”
His plan is to send firefighters back to homes where drug users overdosed on heroin or other opioids to follow up with them and their families. The firefighters will bring packets containing information about where to go for help and how to decrease the chance of overdoses or other problems if they continue to use drugs.
If drug users they treat live outside Revere, Doherty said, firefighters will contact the fire department where they reside and try to arrange a visit through local officials.
Doherty said he got the idea for home visits after researching a program launched this year by the Weymouth Fire Department, which mails information to the homes of people who have overdosed.
The packet includes a thumb drive with a documentary film about narcotics, a small container for safely disposing of needles, pamphlets, and information about a website aimed at Weymouth residents seeking help, said Weymouth Fire Chief Keith Stark.
The department has mailed 41 packets since January, the chief said. “It’s a real issue in our community, and you can’t turn a blind eye to it.”
On Monday, fire chiefs from more than 30 communities in Greater Boston are scheduled to meet with Michael Botticelli, who directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama Administration, to discuss the antiopioid efforts in Revere and Weymouth as well as firefighters’ ideas for prevention programs.
Some fire chiefs who plan to attend said they want to discuss getting more funding to buy Narcan and train firefighters to use it.
Doherty said the department recently paid $46 for two nasal applications of Narcan. In 2010, Doherty said he was told the price was $30.
Revere firefighters are collaborating with Kim Hanton, director of addiction services at North Suffolk Mental Health Association, who is assembling their information packets and training firefighters selected to participate. Eighteen have volunteered and Doherty said he expects six to eight will be chosen.
“I love the organic place this has taken shape from,” Hanton said. “It’s really developed out of need.”
In the two months between Feb. 2 and April 5, Revere firefighters used Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, 136 times to reverse overdoses, compared to 144 times during the year between January 2014 and Feb. 1, department figures show.
Those numbers include some people who have overdosed repeatedly only to be resuscitated and resume using, Doherty said.
One woman, Doherty said, has been saved about 10 times with Narcan. Her reaction after being rescued from a recent overdose stunned firefighters, he said.
“She sat up and she looked at them and said, ‘Hey! Job security for you guys,’ ” Doherty said. “It’s unbelievable. . . . Everybody knows her. They call her by her first name. As soon as they hear the address, they got the application out ready to go. They run in with it open.”
That woman is not the only drug user Revere firefighters have seen overdose again and again. According to Doherty, one man used to joke with his rescuers, exclaiming “You brought me back again!” Then one day, he overdosed while visiting a family member in a community where firefighters do not carry Narcan.
“He died,” Doherty said.
The number of fire departments carrying Narcan, which comes in injectables and nasal applicators, has grown steadily in recent years.
According to the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, nearly all of the 212 unions the organization represents carry the drug. At the Monday meeting, some fire chiefs said they also want to discuss what they can do to prevent people from getting addicted in the first place.
“We have to start getting into the schools,” said Everett Fire Chief David Butler, chairman of MetroFire, which represents fire departments around Boston.
Doherty said firefighters are in a special position to help because people do not see them as a threat.
“Hopefully we can make that connection to them and say, ‘You’re not alone. This did happen and this is how you can maybe help,’" he said.