First responders battling heroin overdose spike with Narcan

First responders battling heroin overdose spike with Narcan »Play Video
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- KEPR is always working to keep you up to date on the latest trends. One that we continue to bring you is the growing rate of heroin use and overdoses in our region. We looked into how first responders are working to combat the problem, since they are first on the scene to an overdose.

Lincoln Swenson has been with the Kennewick Fire Department for almost 3 decades. Amidst all the fires he has responded to throughout the years, Swenson has seen hundreds overdose on opiates, like heroin.

"Somebody will get a shipment of heroin in that hasn't been cut, or they'll get something that's stronger than normal, and then we'll see, you know, 15, 20 of them in a week, or more," said Swenson.

The person could be legally dead. But with a drug first responders carry with them, the person is brought back to life.

"As long as their cells are still functioning, it will go ahead and it will reverse the effects of the opiates," he said.

The drug is called Narcan. It's an opiate antagonist, and for years paramedics have been using it to reverse heroin overdoses. They've been doing it through an IV, which can take a couple of minutes. The new, quick, and easy way to do it is with a syringe. It goes right up through your nose, and paramedics say they can do the whole process in 15 seconds.

"The faster you can bring them back, the better their chance at coming back with no brain injury is," said Swenson.

Swenson says his success rate with using Narcan is 100 percent. He is excited for the day when doctors will prescribe it here, like they do in other places throughout the country.

"Anybody can do that. This is the easy route," Swenson said, referring to family members who could spray the drug up someone's nose easily to save their life.

Right now, only paramedics can give the drug out, but that will all change soon. The protocol is in the process of changing for all of our agencies in the region. So, EMTs will be able to give Narcan to patients when a paramedic isn't there.

"As long as we stay on the cutting edge, we can do the best for the people that we serve, and that's always been our goal: to do the best that we possibly can for the people we serve," said Swenson.

The nasal spray option of Narcan has only been around a couple years, while paramedics have been able to give the drug out through an IV for decades. Sometimes, they will do both to a patient at the same time for quicker action.