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Cumberland County EMS teams up to fight drug overdoses


In 2019, nearly 71,000 people died from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention (CDC). CDC statistics say more than 70 percent of overdose deaths involve prescription opioids, which include oxycodone, morphine, codeine, fentanyl and hydrocodone. Increasingly across the country, Emergency Medical Services are responding to overdose calls, and Cumberland County is no exception. Last year, Cumberland County EMS personnel handled more than 3,000 overdose calls, according to Director David Grovdahl. “It’s a big problem in Cumberland County,” said Grovdahl, who’s been the county’s EMS director for a year and has worked in the field for 22 years. Cumberland County is trying to combat the opioid overdose problem through a partnership between Cape Fear Valley Health (which oversees EMS), Cumberland County Government and the Cumberland County Health Department. The partnership doesn’t have an official name but has a multi-pronged approach that includes many strategies, including distributing Narcan nasal spray, which is used to reverse drug overdoses. Narcan has been on the market for 50 years, though it hasn’t always been available in nasal spray form. “We try to ensure law enforcement, fire departments, community groups and anybody who needs Narcan has it available to them,” Grovdahl said. “They don’t have to pay for it. We are able to give it to them thanks to state and federal funding programs. Narcan has saved a lot of lives at this point. So far in 2022, we’ve given Narcan a little more than 200 times.” Community Paramedic Chris Dudley said he covers the basics of Narcan during training, explaining how it works, that it can’t harm the person even if he or she isn’t having an overdose and that those who administer it are protected under the Good Samaritan law. “As 911 emergency medical services providers, we play an important role in combating this issue. Our mission at EMS and throughout Cape Fear Valley Health is to take care of the community, and that includes all aspects of healthcare.” He also advises people to call 911 before administering Narcan to ensure they place the patient in a recovery position after administering the first dose and to wait two full minutes before giving the second dose. Currently, Dudley conducts two to three trainings per month with hotel housekeepers, given the high number of overdoses that occur there, but he said officials are in the process of developing more Narcan training and scheduling regular biweekly trainings for the community. “There are receptors in the brain that opioids work on, and Narcan binds to those receptors instead of the opiate,” Grovdahl said. “One of the things that can happen is you can give somebody Narcan and when the Narcan wears off, they can still overdose. That’s why it’s always important to call 911. Narcan does not neutralize the opioids in the system. It binds with the receptors in the brain, but the body still has to metabolize it.” Drug overdoses can happen for several reasons, including mislabeled medications, improper dosages taken, unintended drug interactions and unsupervised children getting into their parents’ medicine cabinet. However, many overdoses happen due to drug addiction. For those addicted to these drugs, Narcan may be successful in saving their lives at that moment, but it’s only half the battle. “One of the things we know about substance abuse is that one trip to the emergency department will not cure drug addiction,” Grovdahl said. “They need to go through drug treatment and have wrap-around support services, which requires a team to help make the individual successful in recovery. So, our role is to also connect the individual when they’re ready for drug treatment with a treatment center and a treatment program.In February, EMS implemented the Cumberland County EMS Mental Health and Substance Abuse Program. Since it began, EMS has seen increasing numbers of individuals seeking drug treatment. The program is in the process of expanding as a branch of Cape Fear Valley Health’s Community Paramedic Program, a health and substance abuse team that responds with 911 paramedics to the overdose call and follows up within 48 to 72 hours, to offer recovery services and handle any social issues that need to be addressed. For example, an individual may need childcare while seeking treatment, so the team will connect individuals with community resources to help make recovery successful by addressing roadblocks and speed bumps that make recovery more difficult. Grovdahl said program expansion in the next several months will include four community paramedics, two licensed clinical social workers and a peer support specialist, which will allow for around-the-clock coverage. “Drug addiction is a healthcare problem as well as a legal issue,” Grovdahl said. “As the 911 emergency medical services providers for this county, we play an important role in combating this issue. Our mission at EMS and throughout Cape Fear Valley Health is to take care of the community, and that includes all aspects of healthcare.”

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