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updated: 10/31/2013 10:20 AM

Wis. firefighters hope to carry heroin antidote

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Associated Press

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- La Crosse firefighters could become one of the first groups of emergency responders in Wisconsin allowed to carry a lifesaving drug for heroin users.

The department is asking the state for permission to administer Narcan, an antidote given for an opiate overdose, the La Crosse Tribune reported.

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Paramedics are the only emergency responders authorized to give Narcan. Firefighters responding to a heroin overdose can only manage a patient's breathing and circulation until paramedics arrive, Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland said.

"We're at every medical emergency situation," he said. "When we can start the intervention earlier, the better the outcome will be."

The state's Emergency Medical Services office, or EMS, is already considering allowing emergency medical technicians to carry Narcan. The fire department hopes for permission as well, citing an average of one heroin overdose in La Crosse every four days.

The EMS pilot program is a response to rising heroin use and deaths, coordinator Frederick Hornby II said. Agencies can begin applying to the program next month, and those that are accepted will carry Narcan for one year beginning Jan. 1.

In early 2015, an advisory board will analyze the results and consider whether to equip all basic emergency medical technicians with the drug.

Narcan can be administered nasally or by injection, and it works in minutes.

"The number of bad outcomes with Narcan is extremely small compared to just about any other drug," said Chris Eberlein, a Gundersen Health System doctor who's also a medical director for the fire department. "It is very, very safe."

Cleveland said he hopes the La Crosse Fire Department is admitted into the program because of its rising number of heroin-related medical calls. Firefighters responded to 98 potential overdoses last year, and 86 so far this year.

"The problem with heroin is huge in this city," Cleveland said.

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