Training, experience and medication help Iowa reduce overdose deaths

DAVENPORT -- Iowa has seen a reduction in overdose deaths from heroin and pain pills by nearly 50 percent over the past two years.

Narcan - which reverses the effects of opiods - is a life-saver that fits in the palm of a hand.

"It's already pre-numbered, pre-dosed," said Chuck Gipson, Medic EMS, on Monday, December 12, 2016.  "All we have to do is screw it together and administer the medicine."

Davenport's Medic EMS uses it about every other day to treat overdoses.  They did so nearly 200 times in 2016.

"As we squeeze this, for a patient, it squirts up into a mist," he continued.

As more first responders train to use Narcan, the overdose death rate continues to fall. In Iowa, the death rate fell from 97 in 2013 to 58 in 2015.

The Governor's Office on Drug Policy credits increased use of antidotes like Narcan.

"It is very much a life-saver," Gipson said.  "It's one of the medications that we have that as you administer it, you see almost immediate results."

But while Narcan is preventing overdose deaths, heroin problems continue to increase.  That makes awareness even more important.

Emergency responders and police officers are getting more training and experience.  That improves recognition and response to treating overdoses.

"We haven't gotten our thumb on the cause of the problem, but we do have this great alternative to be able to treat the problem when the problem presents," he said.

Narcan won't cure addiction, but it will reverse life-threatening medical problems and open the door for rehabilitation.

"Heroin is a problem," Gipson concluded.  "It's a problem in many people's lives, but it's a problem that can be dealt with."

These boots-on-the-ground responders should know.