The Ripon Guardian Ambulance Service (RGAS) administered Narcan, a medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, more than twice as many times in 2020 than it did in 2019.
Last year, RGAS administered Narcan 16 times after only administering it seven times in 2019, according to EMS Chief John Teachout.
Additionally, those numbers do not necessarily reflect those people who were found without a pulse, not breathing and no treatment was administered due to signs of post-mortem.
“Narcan is an amazing medication,” he said, noting it is known as “an opioid antagonist” because it immediately prevents opioids from binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks and reverses an overdose. “It works very quickly and within seconds of administration a person who is unresponsive and not adequately breathing can wake up and their breathing will return to normal.”
Teachout said 10 overdoses could be directly attributed to heroin use, while four others were suspected overdose of prescription medications containing opiates and two were the same person within one week.
Last May, the Commonwealth reported that overdoses in the Ripon area were on the rise.
Data from RGAS shows that Narcan usage peaked in April, when the EMS service administered the medication five times.
“Based on our data, it appears April was a very busy month for overdoses,” Teachout said last week. “It is likely many of those may have been attributed to a ‘hot’ load of heroin, possibly laced with fentanyl.”
Teachout attributed the increase in 2020 to the mix of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, with heroin as many drug users are unaware of the potency.
“As people continue to use opioids they develop a tolerance to them and begin to increase their dosage to achieve the euphoric high,” he said. “With an increase in the amount of opioid injected and then unknowingly having it mixed with fentanyl, a lethal dose can be injected, unintentionally.
“Several of the people that have overdosed have not even had a chance to remove the needle from the injection site before they have become unresponsive.”
Although Narcan use more than doubled last year, Teachout said RGAS has not had to administer the medication within the last three months.
“We are not certain if that is just a lucky streak for us or if it might become a trend; we continue to see a steady number of overdoses in our neighboring communities, especially the larger communities,” he said. “Perhaps having many more resources available now to drug-dependent individuals along with the prevalence and easy administration of Narcan is now beginning to benefit our community by preventing overdose deaths.”
Teachout was hesitant to speculate about whether the uptick in overdoses could be directly tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he noted factors such as loss of income, online educational changes and lack of social gatherings can lead people “to migrate to alcohol and drug use.”
“Any undue, consistent, day-to-day stressors will begin to build and can lead to chemical abuse including prescription drugs, alcohol and street drugs,” Teachout said. “COVID has certainly caused a major disruption in everyone’s lives and no doubt has contributed to stress levels.”
Ripon Police Chief Bill Wallner said opioid addiction is an issue that many communities are facing in the Ripon area.
“I am not sure there is one specific issue that we can attribute to the overall increase in numbers we saw between 2019 and 2020,” Wallner said.
He noted the Ripon Police Department is continuing to address this issue through partnerships with Drug Free Communities of Fond du Lac County and with outpatient treatment and drug recovery coaches, specifically with an organization called “Dar June.”
“We are able to make contact with drug treatment coaches and get help offered to those individuals and families that are trying to cope with opioid addiction right away and get those treatment options available,” Wallner said. “We have always said we cannot just try and arrest our way [out] of this issue, so having those cooperative partnerships is really important.”
He added that prosecution and investigation of those supplying opioids in the community will continue to be part of the fight against overdoses.
“We continue to work within our department and with other outside agencies on identification and arrest of those responsible for dealing in our community,” Wallner said.
(Drug Free Communities of Fond du Lac County declined multiple requests for comment over a two-week period.)
At the same time, Teachout said making Narcan more available and providing training “in the safe administration of Narcan has likely prevented many more opioid-related deaths” as “having trained police officers in the administration of Narcan has helped immensely.”
“In 2019, we had an incident where our police officers responded to a residence with two people who had overdosed,” he said. “Two officers deployed their entire supply of Narcan to both individuals successfully.”
Teachout added that making counseling more readily available to depressed or drug-dependent individuals to prevent or assist them with dealing with drug addiction also could help reduce the problem of drug abuse in the community.
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