Members of Beacon Hose Company No. 1 rushed to intercept a train at the Beacon Falls Train Station for a medical emergency on a Friday in late November.
When the first responders boarded the train they found a man collapsed on the floor of the bathroom. He was sweating, breathing shallowly, unresponsive, and his pupils had shrunk to the size of pinpoints — all signs of an opioid overdose.
“We put together the Narcan and administered it in his nose. Within two to three minutes he was able to walk out of the train by himself,” Beacon Hose EMS Director Joe Chew said.
This scene would have played out differently a couple of years ago.
Narcan, also known as Naxolene, is used to treat opioid overdose. It has been available for first responders to use for about two years.
Beacon Hose Fire Chief Jim Trzaski said the department has had a dozen cases similar to the one on the train in the past year and a half. Each time the department was able to revive the person using Narcan.
“It has made a substantial difference in outcome of the patients,” Trzaski said. “It has most certainly saved lives in our community on several occasions.”
Before Narcan became available for first responders to use, Chew said the department could only provide artificial respiration and wait for paramedics to arrive from Waterbury.
“That takes a good amount of time. It could take 10 minutes. We all know when you are not breathing 10 minutes is too long,” Chew said.
The number of fatal overdoses, including cases with non-opioids, has sharply increased since 2012, according to statistics on the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s website. In 2012, there were 355 overdose deaths. In 2014, that number jumped up to 558. As of September of 2015, that number was at 509 and the medical examiner’s office is projecting that it will reach 679 by the year’s end.
According to local officials, without Narcan that number could have been much higher.
“I am 100 percent sure Narcan has saved lives,” Prospect Volunteer Department spokesman Lt. PJ Conway said.
The Prospect fire department began carrying Narcan in August 2014. Since then first responders in Prospect have used the drug three times, according to Conway.
“On all three occasions the people were close to death, not breathing,” Conway said. “We got there and administered the Narcan and the people woke up and start breathing.”
Prior to the state allowing first responders to administer Narcan, Conway said there wasn’t much that could be done to help someone who overdosed on opioids.
Conway recalled a case five years ago when first responders in Prospect had to continually resuscitate a person who had overdosed while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
“Now we have the ability to [use Narcan]. Each member of the department is given a dose to carry with them,” Conway said. “Working as a paramedic and registered nurse and administering Narcan, I’m happy now that it is in the hands of [first responders].”
Naugatuck Ambulance Association Director Larry Santoro wasn’t able to provide an exact number of times first responders in the borough have had to use Narcan.
In October, Naugatuck police used Narcan to revive a man after he was found suffering from an overdose in his car at the Cumberland Farms, 563 North Main St., after crashing into another parked car.
Narcan is no longer just available for first responders. The drug became available to the general public to use in August 2014.
Santoro said one side effect of making Narcan available to the general public is longer wait times for first responders to get their doses.
Santoro said first responders were typically able to get Narcan in a day or two. Now it takes more than a week for shipments to come in, he said.
Other concerns have been raised that making Narcan available to the general public may enable people to use opioids more recklessly.
However, for first responders the fact that the drug can save lives outweighs any concerns.
“We’re always in favor of being able to save someone’s life. If they do it again, there’s nothing we can do about that. We always err on the side of saving lives,” Chew said.