North Adams adds Narcan to arsenal in battle against opioid abuse

North Adams Police and Fire Department responders now are equipped with Narcan, which quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

NORTH ADAMS — In the ongoing war against heroin addiction, the North Adams Police and Fire Departments have armed themselves with a new weapon — Narcan.

And it already is saving lives.

Also known as naloxone, Narcan can is a drug that can work quickly to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. After undergoing training, both firefighters and police officers in the city were equipped this month to use the powerful drug; one that its advocates say can stave off imminent death and provide an addict with another chance at recovery.

"The support from the mayor and the efforts of [North Adams Police] Director Michael Cozzaglio to get things rolling truly made a difference in less than 48 hours," North Adams Fire Department Director Stephen Meranti said in a statement.

Within the first week, police and firefighters have administered seven doses of Narcan; four lives were saved.

The North Adams Police Department becomes the first in Berkshire County to train and use the drug, according to North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. The departments obtained Narcan through a new bulk purchasing program introduced last year by Attorney General Maura Healey and intended for fire and police departments.

"Everybody just jumped right on," Alcombright said of local leaders. "There's an empathy around addiction, there's starting to become more of an understanding."

The North Adams Ambulance Service has been equipped with Narcan for years, but its responders aren't always the first to the scene of an overdose.

The process of providing police and firefighters with access to Narcan, spearheaded by Cozzaglio at the direction of Alcombright, began with an agreement between the leaders of the departments to tackle the issue.

The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition also had an integral role in the furthered access to Narcan in North Adams. It assisted the agencies in accessing grant funding to complete the administrative process of acquiring Narcan and provide comprehensive training to its first responders. The training was provided by the North Adams Ambulance Service and its assistant chief, Amalio Jusino.

"This was a huge opportunity to further the availability of Narcan among first responders," said Wendy Penner, the coalition's director of prevention and wellness.

Firefighters and police officers are now trained in how to recognize an overdose and effectively treat it with the Narcan. Each officer and fire truck carries the drug and equipment necessary to administer it, according to the agencies.

"We effectively reviewed, trained and implemented a program collaboratively with all three agencies and it saved a life already," Cozzaglio said. "It doesn't get much better than that."

Although Narcan is effective and more readily available, Penner noted that addicts are still dying of overdoses and the drug is not a safety net that encourages addicts to continue to using.

"We're having a public health crisis and people are dying," she said. "We're not seeing more people dying because of Narcan; we're seeing fewer people."