Emergency responders in Idaho Falls are now equipped with opioid overdose rescue kits that can be distributed to local residents as needed, city officials heard this week.
Each kit includes two doses of naloxone — a medicine which “rapidly reverses an opioid overdose,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Idaho Falls EMS Chief Eric Day said ambulance crews will leave a kit behind at a scene if they “identify or suspect that opioid overdose is a possibility.”
“We will ask the patient or family member if they would like (one), and that’s the extent of it,” he said during a Monday work session of the Idaho Falls City Council. “It’s just an offer for anybody at the scene of one of those overdoses. … Anybody that we can find that might be interested in accepting it, the offer is made.”
In addition to naloxone, the kits contain information about local agencies that connect people to substance abuse treatment, housing and food assistance and other community resources, Eastern Idaho Public Health Drug Overdose Prevention Program Coordinator Mallory Johnson said.
Day said Johnson’s group is working with Idaho Falls EMS to identify overdose “hot spots” in the community that might benefit from more access to the rescue kits. He noted that the kits come from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare at no cost to the city.
“She is able to (see) where every single one of our ambulances are responding to any call that is a suspected overdose,” Day said. “She’s putting these kits (everywhere).”
Johnson said she has provided boxes of naloxone to local schools, medical facilities, counseling centers and government buildings. She also works with doctors and pharmacists, encouraging them to co-prescribe naloxone to patients receiving opioids.
“It’s just purely part of the harm reduction component … making sure (naloxone) is available so if we have a person that’s in need, that they have access to it,” Day said. “There is no reason for them not to have access to this medication.”
In the first 11 months of 2021, Idaho Falls Police officers were dispatched to 51 opioid overdose-related emergencies, including 11 fatalities. The 11 deaths were more than double the amount of deaths in both 2019 and 2020, the Post Register reported.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper asked whether some residents might oppose the overdose rescue program, recalling the public response to birth control and clean needle distribution initiatives in the past.
“Is this in that same vein, which can be highly controversial in terms of social policy, or is this a little bit different … given the absolute devastation that (opioids are) wreaking on society?” Casper asked.
Day agreed that, “if you looked at it strictly from an illicit drug use standpoint, you might consider this to be a little edgy.” But he also pointed out that “a lot of opioid overdose is not (due to) illicit drug use.” For example, he said, a child might accidentally take a guardian’s medicine, or a patient might have a bad reaction to an initial prescribed dose.
Regardless, Day said “if anybody has access to an opioid, then this kit should be available to them — whether it’s an illegal drug use or an accidental overdose.”
“(It’s for) anybody that wants this in their house,” he said.
Because opioid addiction has affected “almost every demographic,” Idaho Falls City Councilman John Radford guessed that “there are many people that are confronting this, that know people in their family are struggling with this and would like to have this on hand.”
“I think everyone’s family, in some way, shape or form, has been hit by the opioid crisis,” Idaho Falls City Councilwoman Michelle Ziel-Dingman said, echoing Radford’s comments and thanking Day and Johnson for their work. “I’m really grateful this is a proactive approach. The more resources the better. There is no doubt that (naloxone) is a drug that saves lives, period.”
To receive a kit in the mail, call the Idaho Harm Reduction Project at 208-991-4574 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.