NC city launches first fire, EMS-based syringe exchange

“This program is another tool to save lives. We think it will make a difference,” Havelock Fire Rescue Chief Rick Zaccardelli said

By FireRescue1 Staff

HAVELOCK, N.C. — The first syringe exchange program led by fire and EMS agencies has been implemented in North Carolina in their effort to fight the opioid epidemic.

Huffington Post reported that Havelock Fire Rescue and Jones County EMS started the program in November after looking into research on syringe exchanges and the public health benefits.

“Right now EMS is being reactive to the opioid problem,” Craven County Medical Director Stanley Koontz said. “We want to be proactive. It’s either do nothing or do something and syringe exchange has a good track record.”

Firefighters were trained on how to hand out naloxone kits with syringes and sterile injection supplies, as well as how to inform people about treatment options when dealing with an overdose patient.

“If firefighters respond to an overdose and the person doesn’t want to go to the hospital, we offer kits containing naloxone and treatment info. People can also come to the station to get syringes and sterile injection supplies,” Havelock Assistant Chief Steve Coffey said. “We’d like to get to the point where we can have people come to the station to get placed in a treatment center as well.”

EMS providers go a step further by collecting used syringes and giving patients information on how to get more syringes later.

“An overdose is a real opportunity for impact,” Koontz said. “We can not only revive people, but also give out disease prevention equipment and information on treatment. We hope to open a fixed site location someday as well.”

Assistant Chief Coffey said the firefighters “have been more receptive” than he predicted, but it’s yet to be determined if the new program will work.

“We’ve had some pushback from the public, but once people find out that no tax money is being used, people come around.”

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