State gets millions, will train more first responders to fight opioid overdoses

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The State of Arizona plans to use a $3.1 million grant from the federal government to train more first responders to recognize the symptoms of an opioid abuser and to administer naloxone, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in June after The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) reported 790 Arizonans died from an opioid overdose in 2016. In the few months since, ADHS has provided nearly 5,000 naloxone kits to law enforcement agencies.

[RELATED: State health officials release opioid action plan]

Taylor George, section chief for the department’s Bureau of EMS and Trauma, says law enforcement will be an important focus of this grant.

“The big population is law enforcement officers who historically don’t have medical training. So, they just know that someone is unresponsive. We’re teaching them the signs and symptoms to identify, ‘well they are probably unresponsive because of this drug, because of these symptoms, now I know how to intervene,’” George explains.

[RELATED: Arizona agency gets $3.2M from US to combat opioid abuse]

Governor Ducey’s goal is to get 85 percent of the state’s population covered by first responders who have and know how to use naloxone. That means ADHS will have to reach out to rural areas where resources are more scarce. Many large medical response agencies, like the Phoenix Fire Department have been carrying the overdose reversal drug for years.

“Some of the smaller communities don’t have the capacity or the training or the level of certification to have historically carried or used naloxone. Some of our statutes now allow any law enforcement officer, any certified EMCT to administer naloxone,” said George.

[RELATED: Backlog of drug testing due to new opioid warnings]

He explains that ADHS director, Cara Christ, signed a standing order to allow those first responders to administer the drug. That allows for funding to train and funding to provide the drug.

ADHS is partnering with the University of Arizona and the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board to make this happen. The university provides connections to rural health organizations and they’ll get $550,000 a year for four years to go out and implement the trainings. About $100,000 will go directly to paying for more naloxone.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Opioid Crisis in Arizona]

Since the emergency declaration in June, nearly 3,000 suspected opioid overdoses have been reported in Arizona. Roughly 350 of those were fatal.

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