Paramedics question firefighters' use of Narcan

The rationale for firefighters being equipped with the medication was a spike in overdose drug deaths

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A union representing paramedics is questioning why government officials allowed firefighters to begin using Narcan to save overdose victims.

Vancouver Courier reported that the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. was not consulted about the type of training for firefighters to administer naloxone, the protocols for handing off a patient at a scene or the medical evidence showing the need for firefighters to use the medication.

"I know a lot of people would like to characterize this as a turf war, when really there's more going on, in our view, with the way that this was handled," Bronwyn Barter, president of the union, said. "When we normally do something like this — when we add a protocol or something — there's some work done to make sure everybody is safe, the patient's safe, the people using the protocol are safe. And this never happened with this issue."

In January, government officials announced that firefighters in Vancouver and Surrey could start administering Narcan. They also expanded the number of paramedics certified to use the medication. The announcement came after a report showed that 465 people died in British Columbia last year of an apparent drug overdose.

So far, firefighters have administered Narcan 17 times. Fire Chief John McKearney said 230 of his firefighters are trained to inject the medication.

"At the street level, I'm told by my staff that it's positive, it's not negative," McKearney said of the firefighters’ relationship with paramedics when using Narcan. "In fact, there were a couple of instances where paramedics have arrived on scene where we hadn't yet administered naloxone and they've said, "You just go ahead and keep doing it.' So it's working out quite well."

Vancouver councilmember Geoff Meggs said he recognized there is tension between paramedics and firefighters. He said, however, that he supports the decision to allow firefighters to administer the medication.

"It's a practical thing to do, they're usually first on the scene," Meggs said.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said he's interested in having his officers use the nasal spray form of naloxone once it becomes available and approved.

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