In the midst of a growing opioid addiction epidemic, officials are being called to hundreds of overdose calls a year where they often administer a life-saving drug — a drug that is costing Manatee County thousands of dollars.
Naloxone, most commonly known by its brand name Narcan, is an opioid overdose effects-reversal drug used by EMS officials to revive overdose victims.
As the opioid addiction spreads, Manatee County EMS officials have found themselves administering more and more of the life-saving drug.
The earliest year for which data on naloxone administration by EMS was available was 2013. That year, naloxone was administered 339 times. The next year, 700 doses were administered.
The troubling trend would only continue to climb. In 2015, there were 1,366 naloxone administrations and 2,521 last year.
In the first half of 2017, Narcan has already been administered 1,440 times. At that pace — and considering that last July and August were the busiest back-to-back months Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega ever saw with mostly drug overdose cases — 2017 is on track to surpass last year’s administrations.
Currently, the county pays $43.79 a dose for Narcan.
At that price, the county has spent an estimated $63,058 on Narcan so far in 2017 to administer 1,440 doses.
In 2013, the county spent $14,232 to administer Narcan 339 times, according to Herald archives.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said it’s unfortunate that the county has to spend that much money, but they’re saving lives.
“In public safety, our job is to save lives no matter what it takes. We’ll do whatever it takes to save you,” said Whitmore, who is also a registered nurse.
The drug comes from a supplier and the county does competitive bid process biannually. In turn, the cost of Narcan is also budgeted for biannually.
In some cases, overdose victims require more than one dose of naloxone, said Mark Jones, Manatee County EMS deputy chief of clinical affairs and professional standards. In one 2016 Bradenton police case, records show that the person denied drug use, but required 10 doses of the life-saving drug to be revived.
Whitmore noted that the opioid derivatives, such as fentanyl and carfentanyl, are also stronger and can require additional doses of naloxone to counteract the overdose effects.
“You never know how much you need until you start using it, and they start to wake up,” Whitmore said.
But not everyone feels the need to spend the money to save lives. Whitmore said she’s heard others talk negatively about the use of naloxone, but she tells them they “don’t have any clue.”
“I think ... if it was their child or family member and if we stopped (giving naloxone) because it was too much money, they would disagree,” Whitmore said.
Still, officials are working to reduce drug use and curb the number of naloxone doses distributed.
The Manatee County Community Paramedics program has started partnering with mental health experts and addiction specialists. The group will go out and speak to people who have recently been revived with naloxone and point them toward recovery resources, said James Crutchfield, chief of community paramedicine in Manatee County.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Crutchfield said.