NOGALES, Ariz. (April 12, 2021) – The Nogales Fire and Medical Department is providing free naloxone kits – the drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose – to anyone who wants them.
The overdose-reversing medication Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, blocks opioid receptors in the brain, works in 1-3 minutes and lasts 30-90 minutes. If administered in time, the antidote can prevent deaths from overdoses due to opioid drugs, such as oxycodone, fentanyl or heroin.
The free naloxone kits are available to the community through a partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and Sonoran Prevention Works. People can request a kit while remaining anonymous.
While most people are worried about the pandemic, the opioid crisis is still having devastating effects on communities. In Arizona, two people die of opioid overdoses each day, and numbers have only worsened during the pandemic.
The free Naloxone kits are one way to address the crisis, said NFD Battalion Chief Jeff Polcari. “We want to create an environment where people know that individuals affected by opioid addiction are welcome, that we want to help them and that we are not going to judge them by doing so.”
One year ago, NFD started to give out free naloxone kits to patients and their families and friends when they respond to 9-1-1 calls related to opioid use, such as overdoses. They were one of the first fire departments in Arizona to offer such a program, and now, other agencies across the state are following their lead. This new initiative makes it even easier for community members to receive naloxone, no questions asked; all they have to do is walk up to a fire station or firefighter and ask for a kit.
“Ready access to naloxone at home or in the community can save lives,” Polcari said. “Knowing when and how to use Narcan gives people a chance for recovery in the future.”
Data has shown that programs like this are very effective at reducing fatal overdoses and even overall opioid use, explained Melody Glenn, MD, University of Arizona assistant professor of emergency medicine and Base Hospital Medical Director at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “Laypeople are willing to use the kits and are successfully reducing overdoses. Such a program sends a message that the healthcare system cares about people who use drugs, treating addiction as a disease instead of a crime or moral failure. We want to reduce the amount of stigma that people who use drugs often face when accessing healthcare.”
In addition to providing the Naloxone kits, NFD is building bridges in the community with other organizations to help people struggling with addiction. Emergency medical services providers connect people with peer recovery specialists at HOPE, Inc. (Helping Ourselves Pursue Enrichment, Inc. (HOPE), who will meet the person wherever they are and work with them to figure out what services are best for them at that moment, whether that is medications for addiction treatment (MAT) such as buprenorphine or methadone, peer support or rehabilitation. They will even drive people to get to their first appointment at a center that offers medication for opioid use disorder.
The NFD also has the ability to conduct telemedicine consults with Community Medical Services, an outpatient treatment program in the area that offers MAT.
“I believe that our fire departments in Santa Cruz County are the first in the state to link patients directly to peer recovery specialists and offer telemedicine consults with a MAT provider,” said Dr. Glenn, “and MAT is the gold standard treatment for opioid use disorder.”
“Providing the Naloxone kit is a very clear way to say that your life matters and that we want to help,” Dr. Glenn said. “Naloxone is a safe, easy-to-use, and lifesaving medication for people who use drugs, and as such, should be readily available for those who need it.”
To receive a Naloxone kit or for more information, go to Nogales Fire Station 1, 777 N. Grand Ave., Nogales, Arizona, 85621, or call 520-287-6548.