CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A statewide tracking system for auto injector use to save overdose victims is still in the works, but officials say such information likely will not be available until next year.
This past session, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin allowing first responders, including firefighters and law enforcement, to carry Naloxone injectors, an opioid antagonist that can save the life of someone who has overdosed on drugs.
The law also allows civilians to purchase and use the Naloxone injectors in cases where a family member is an addict and at risk of an overdose.
West Virginia Poison Center Director Elizabeth Scharman said the state has tasked the center with compiling data on the use of the Naloxone injectors by non-medical first responders. The agency already tracks drug overdoses, both unintentional or intentional, for all kinds of prescription and illicit drugs.
“What the state wants tracked is how many non-paramedic first-responders, meaning firemen and policemen, are using the Naloxone injectors,” she said. “They want to know how many times they are being used and what is happening to the individuals the injector was used on. Did they survive?”
That information, Scharman said, will be used in part to determine whether expanded use of the injectors will save lives.
However, the law went into effect in May and some agencies have been slow to add the injectors.
“The law went into effect fairly recently, and you’ve got to get all of those agencies drafting policies and procedures for using and reporting the injectors,” she said. “You’ve got to follow certain storage and usage rules within the law, and that requires training everyone. I expect after the first of the year we will start seeing some reporting by these agencies.”
Some agencies, such as the State Police, announced they would not be equipping employees with the injectors because of financial and training concerns. Lawrence Messina, communications director for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said state agencies, including the State Police, are still looking at the law and use of the injectors.
“The State Police supports the governor’s legislation. The State Police continue to examine how to implement it in an effective yet practical way, given the number of troopers in the field, their coverage areas, and available resources.”
The state Department of Health and Human Resources has seen a steady increase in the use of Naloxone injectors in recent years. In 2012, there were 1,873 administrations of Naloxone by emergency medical service workers. In 2013, there were 1,937 administrations. In 2014, the number rose to 2,171. So far in 2015, there have been 2,505 administrations reported by emergency medical service workers.
Messina said those numbers, however, do not include injections by hospitals, physicians or by families or law enforcement.
Scharman said the numbers which will be tracked by the Poison Center also will not include private use of the injectors, unless people choose to self report.
“We have no way of requiring them to report to us,” she said. Likewise, the law does not require first responders to report use of a Naloxone injector if it happened before they arrived, she said.
“I don’t think we will begin to receive any sort of reports until next year,” she said.
Scharman said she is concerned the recent focus on heroin overdoses has limited the state and public’s perception of drug abuse in West Virginia. The state leads the nation in overdose deaths due to heroin.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t be looking at heroin deaths,” she said. “I think just looking at those numbers grossly underestimates the drug abuse problem in our state.”
President Barack Obama visited Charleston Wednesday to hold a public discussion on the drug epidemic in West Virginia, talking both about issues with heroin and prescription drug abuse.
Obama brought up the Naloxone law in his opening statements, saying he would be in favor of a similar program at the national level. Several speakers during the public forum also spoke about the need for first-responders to be equipped with Naloxone injectors and for families to have access to the life-saving drug as well.
Scharman said officials from the center were not invited to attend Obama’s community forum on drug abuse Wednesday, even though the center tracks drug abuse for both prescription and illicit drugs.
“I’m not really sure why we weren’t invited,” she said.
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