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Pittsburgh EMS leaving overdose-reversal drug with survivors who decline treatment

Megan Guza
| Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, 1:06 p.m.
A naloxone nasal injection device
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
A naloxone nasal injection device

Since January, overdose survivors treated by Pittsburgh paramedics who refuse hospital treatment have been left with an antidote that can revive them if they overdose again.

The city's EMS bureau last month became one of the first in the state to implement a naloxone leave-behind program, city officials said Tuesday. Naloxone, known by the brand-name Narcan, is a drug that reverses overdoses caused by opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, praised the move. The goal is to get naloxone into the hands of as many people as possible.

“This is one more action step in our fight to address the opioid overdose epidemic,” she said. “While naloxone is not treatment, it can save lives and provide opportunities for recovery.”

When paramedics respond to an overdose call, they offer transport to the emergency room. If a patient refuses, they will leave them with Narcan.

The Narcan kits are paid for with funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, as well as a program managed by the county health department.

EMS officials, including Patient Care Coordinator Mark Pinchalk and Chief Robert Farrow, pushed for the leave-behind program as the next logical step: All first responders in the city, including park rangers, carry naloxone kits. Leaving the drug with overdose survivors or their families will save lives and build trust, Farrow said.

The leave-behind program was made possible after Gov. Tom Wolf declared the epidemic a statewide disaster emergency last month. The declaration encouraged the program by adding first responders to the list of professionals who can dispense naloxone.

Across the state, first responders have reversed more than 5,000 overdoses, Wolf said in his declaration.

While not a treatment, naloxone is part of a continuum of care, Pinchalk noted.

“Naloxone leave behind is a short-term harm reduction initiative, which we combine with improved medical management of opioid overdose by paramedics in the field …” he said.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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