EGREMONT — First responders and firefighters in town are now poised to help in cases involving a heroin overdose or severe allergic reaction.
Following discussions with Fairview Hospital and several hours of training, the Egremont Fire Department is equipped with the opioid overdose drug naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan.
It also will be carrying EpiPens, an injectable form of epinephrine. EpiPens are used to treat anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in people allergic to bee stings or peanuts, for example.
The decision to carry Narcan was not precipitated by any specific rash of drug overdoses, according to David Katzenstein, medical director of the Egremont Fire Department.
He noted the department also covers Mount Washington, which has tourist attractions like Bash Bish Falls, as well as Camp Hi-Rock, a summer camp that often has 400-500 attendees.
"The guys were concerned about response time," Katzenstein said. "Firefighters are usually the first ones to arrive. Although our ambulance service is really fast, sometimes that extra minute or so can save a life."
"Props to the Egremont Fire Department for taking this step," said Ananda Timpane, executive director for the Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington.
RSYP, which was begun more than two decades ago in response to a local heroin epidemic, has long advocated that ambulance services, police, fire departments and schools carry the drug.
Group staffers possess and are trained to use Narcan, Timpane said, "but for us, it's more a matter of having more tools in the kit in case something happens. We're not trained EMTs."
State police units also carry Narcan, which is available as an over-the-counter medication.
Egremont is the first South County fire department to carry Narcan and EpiPens, but Great Barrington also is planning to get on board.
"We are working with Chief [Charles] Burger to take that step," Police Chief William R. Walsh said of his counterpart in the fire department. "In today's world, it only makes sense."
The Egremont program will be funded through the town, and Katzenstein said the cost will be minimal. Last year, Egremont had one opioid overdose.
Despite the troubling opioid epidemic, Timpane said, "it's "been hard for people to get behind these anti-harm programs. "
There is a perception, she said, that a drug like Narcan, which can reverse an overdose almost instantly, somehow encourages use. Studies show that scenario is very rare.
"We know that people do not go into treatment until they're ready," Timpane said. "So you have to find ways to keep these addicts alive until they can be treated."
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