Seattle Fire Department empowers paramedics with new tool for opioid overdose response

March 15, 2024
EMS Fire engine ambulance

Seattle introduces new paramedic program for opioid crisis management

Seattle Fire Department (SFD) has initiated a pilot program that permits paramedics to administer buprenorphine in the field, a significant move in combating the opioid crisis.

Announced by Mayor Bruce Harrell alongside SFD Chief Harold Scoggins and other leaders, this program marks a proactive step towards treating opiate overdoses and withdrawal symptoms.

The medication, buprenorphine, offers temporary stabilization for patients, fostering a conducive environment for discussing treatment and recovery options.

Chief Harold Scoggins explained: “Seattle firefighter/EMTs and paramedics are on the frontlines of the fentanyl and synthetic opioid epidemic.

“Equipping our paramedics with the ability to administer buprenorphine further opens the door for conversations with patients around treatment options.”

Addressing opioid overdoses in Seattle: A critical move

The introduction of buprenorphine in field operations comes as a response to a disturbing trend.

In 2023, Public Health – Seattle and King County reported 735 deaths due to drug overdoses in the city, highlighting the urgent need for innovative solutions.

Regular use of buprenorphine is known to halve mortality from opioid addiction, offering protection from overdose and alleviating withdrawal symptoms.

Mayor Bruce Harrell remarked: “This new pilot program will allow our Seattle Fire Department paramedics to administer this highly effective medication that quickly stabilizes people suffering from opioid use disorder, creating a window where services are more likely to be accepted.”

Beyond immediate response: Health 99 and future plans

The SFD’s initiative, commenced on February 20 following approval by the Washington State Department of Health, is one among several measures taken by the city.

In July 2023, the department launched Health 99, a post-overdose response team, marking a comprehensive approach towards the opioid crisis.

Once a patient receives buprenorphine, Health 99 can intervene, offering treatment and recovery guidance.

Jon Ehrenfeld, Mobile Integrated Health program manager, stated: “The need for prehospital buprenorphine was one of the top findings of our Health One Post-Overdose Response Team pilot evaluation.”

City officials and community leaders rally behind the initiative

The pilot program has garnered support from various city officials and community leaders.

Council President Sara Nelson, Councilmembers Tanya Woo and Bob Kettle, among others, have voiced their backing, acknowledging the crucial role of SFD paramedics in overdose scenarios.

The Human Services Department, Public Health – Seattle and King County, and several local organizations have also shown their support, emphasizing the importance of immediate, trauma-informed responses and continuous care for individuals with substance abuse disorder.

Lisa Daugaard, Co-Executive Director of Purpose Dignity Action, emphasized: “We’re so pleased that Seattle Fire is embracing this pilot to offer immediate access to buprenorphine after overdose reversals.”

FSJA Comment

The Seattle Fire Department’s initiative represents a forward-thinking approach to the opioid crisis, blending immediate medical intervention with long-term recovery support.

This program offers a crucial lifeline to individuals in the midst of an overdose and bridges the gap between emergency response and ongoing treatment.

As cities across America grapple with similar crises, Seattle’s model offers valuable insights into how coordinated efforts between emergency services, health professionals, and community organizations can create a more effective response to public health challenges.

While the long-term impact of such programs remains to be seen, the early integration of treatment options in emergency situations could pave the way for more holistic and sustainable solutions in public health.

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