Just as Gov. Deval Patrick was declaring last week that heroin and other opium-based drugs had created a public health emergency in Massachusetts, Andover firefighters were finishing training on how to administer Narcan — a nasal spray that snaps overdose victims back to life.
Last Thursday, Patrick issued a multi-pronged plan to combat a rise in overdose incidents and deaths, including a call to issue Narcan to anyone who may come in contact with overdose victims, from family members worried about a loved one with an addiction problem to police officers dealing with passed-out junkies on the street.
“We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public health crisis it is,” Patrick said.
Fire Chief Mike Mansfield is way ahead of him — and almost everyone else in the Merrimack Valley — as the Andover Fire Department is the only public safety agency in the region carrying Narcan.
“We had eight overdoses in all of 2013, and in the month of January alone, we had six,” Mansfield said. “That trend is not just local, it’s national.”
He said that one night two weeks ago, paramedics working for Lawrence General Hospital responded to four overdose cases where they had to use Narcan in a two-hour period. And last weekend, he said, firefighters responded to two overdoses in Andover alone, although in neither case was Narcan needed.
Recognizing the wave of overdoses isn’t likely to abate anytime soon, Mansfield started in December to pave the way for the training of all 70 firefighters in his department to administer Narcan. After two weeks of training, their final class was last Thursday.
By last Friday night, every ambulance in Andover was equipped with a Narcan kit. Eventually, he said, he’d like all the fire engines in the department to carry Narcan as well.