The Vigo County Health Department is participating in a state grant program that will enable it to provide free opioid overdose rescue kits, or naloxone, to the Terre Haute police and fire departments as well as the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office
Naloxone is a medication that reverses the life-threatening respiratory failure that is usually the cause of overdose deaths.
City police and fire departments will each receive 60 kits over a six-month period, while the sheriff’s office will receive 12 kits for the six-month time frame. All three departments already use Narcan (a brand name for naloxone) in response to opioid overdoses.
It’s a new program for the health department, which eventually hopes to expand to other first responders in the community, said Joni Wise, health department administrator. At some point, kits also would be made available to individuals.
“Heroin has become more prevalent in our community and so have the overdose rates,” Wise said. “There is a need for it” to help save lives.
The state Department of Health had funding available for the program and is making the kits available to county health departments that meet criteria, include demonstrating the need and the ability to collaborate with community agencies, Wise said.
The health department is obtaining memorandums of understanding with the three agencies and hopes to receive the kits within the next few weeks.
“We welcome any help we can get in battling this crisis,” said Jeff Fisher, Terre Haute fire chief.
The state asked the health department to identify high risk areas in a community. The Terre Haute fire and police departments say there are no “pockets” of high-risk areas in Terre Haute, Wise said.
“Overdoses are not specific to any demographic and don’t know a geographic boundary,” according to Robert Eberhardt, THFD chief of emergency medical services.
The entire state of Indiana is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and Vigo County has not been spared of its devastating effects, the grant states. As opioid addiction rates worsened, state officials cracked down on opiate prescribing practices and “pill mills,” causing many residents in Vigo County to turn to heroin as an easier-to-obtain and cheaper alternative to prescription pills.
As heroin became more prevalent in the community, so did rates of overdose. Recent statistics released by the Indiana State Department of Health show that from 2015 to 2017, Vigo County annually averaged 26 fatalities per year due to opioid overdoses, the grant states.
The majority of those deaths were linked to an influx of heroin that was mixed with fentanyl, a drug that is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. In response to the rising overdose rates, Terre Haute Fire Department ambulances carry naloxone commonly known as the intranasal Narcan in the event that they encounter a heroin overdose.
According to the grant, “The number of overdose deaths has dramatically decreased in Vigo County over the past year and can widely be credited to the use of the overdose antidote.”
The Terre Haute Police Department has been carrying naloxone/Narcan since 2016, which was previously supplied at no cost by the organization “Overdose Lifeline” through a grant from the state attorney general, said Sgt. Steve Lockard of the THPD.
“As our doses of the medication have begun to expire, the Vigo County Health Department and Joni Wise graciously did the leg work to obtain funding to resupply our first responders with new doses,” he said. “Our agencies now have an agreement to work with one another going forward, allowing our first responders to continue to have this life-saving medication.”
Currently, THPD has up to three kits, each with three doses, on the street at all times, with additional doses at the police department front desk and with all of the narcotics detectives, Lockard said.
According to the Terre Haute Fire Department, Narcan is administered, on average, eight or nine times per month. In January, the fire department used Narcan on 10 patients, but administered it 14 times.
Terre Haute police assessed the need for 10 kits each month, based on the average number administered per month in 2018.
The Vigo County Sheriff’s Office administered two doses of Narcan in 2018, according to the grant application. The department is requesting two kits per month, or 12 for the six months. The department wants to be “over prepared” rather than “under prepared,” according to the grant.
Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse said he’s glad the sheriff’s office will benefit from the grant so that when people make poor choices and overdose, “It doesn’t cost them their life.”