Seattle EMTs administer new drug to curb opioid addiction in pilot program

Each year, hundreds of people die of an overdose in Seattle. 

Now, the city is taking a step forward in trying to combat the crisis. Under a new program, Seattle Fire paramedics will be allowed to administer a new medication that helps people suffering from withdrawal. 

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell says the drug is known to cut the risk of death by half.  

The fire chief says the Health 99 Unit, staffed with firefighter EMTs and a Human Services Department caseworker, is one part of the Seattle Fire Department's next evolution in saving lives in an opioid epidemic. 

On average, firefighters have been responding to around 100 overdose patients a week, or 400 a month.  

"Emergency responders on the front line of this epidemic sadly respond to overdoses on a daily basis," said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.

Statistics show a shocking rise in overdose calls over the past few years. Harrell says in 2021, the fire department responded to an average of 4.7 overdose calls per day. In 2022, that number jumped to 10.3 and in 2023, it skyrocketed to 15.4. 

So far, in 2024, numbers are tracking at 14.2 overdoses daily. 

"These numbers are inclusive of all suspected drugs that we face," said Scoggins.

To add more tools to the kit, trained firefighter paramedics will now be able to administer Buprenorphine, which is also known as suboxone, to patients that they encounter in the field. 

"It works by lowering the cravings that people have for more fentanyl and by preventing fentanyl from causing a person to stop breathing," said SFD Medical Director Dr. Michael Sayre. 

"Research has found that administering this medication, after a non-fatal overdose, reduces the risk of another overdose by 50%," said Harrell. 

The fire chief says the medicine also stabilizes people so they can make healthier choices. In the past three weeks since the program launched around Feb. 20, he says that nine people have said ‘yes’ to treatment. 

The mayor says that giving out the medicine in a pre-hospital setting will also reduce the strain on emergency rooms.

"It’s killing people on our streets every single day in our neighborhoods, and it demands that we have tools, cutting edge tools at our disposal to save lives," said Mayor Harrell. 

Currently, around 10 Seattle Fire Department paramedics have received training to give the medication to patients.

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