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Arlington firefighters could soon give away Narcan to bystanders at an overdose scene

A training session for how to administer naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to reverse opioid overdoses in 2019 (staff photo)

When Arlington firefighters respond to drug overdoses, they could soon start bringing along enough doses of an opioid-reversal drug to leave some behind.

This is part of a statewide effort “to prevent fatal overdoses and increase community access” to the nasal spray Narcan, one form of the reversal drug called naloxone.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Virginia Dept. of Health to get more state-provided Narcan into the hands of the public.

Through the Narcan “Leave Behind” Program, VDH has authorized EMS personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, school nurses and others to give Narcan doses to overdose witnesses, as well as to the family and friends of people who use drugs.

The infusion of Narcan is part of national, state and local a focus on reducing harm to drug users. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved Narcan for over-the-counter use.

Some advocates worried this would not do enough to bring the price of Narcan down. Others criticized the FDA for prioritizing the more costly nasal spray over the less-expensive generic version that is injected and said government-led, pharmacy-based distribution efforts do not reach the people who need it.

That is where the distribution of Narcan at the scene of an overdose could be effective, coupled with other harm reduction efforts led by Arlington’s Addiction Recovery Initiative, including fentanyl test strip and medicine deactivation bag distribution.

Higher-ups in the Arlington County Dept. of Human Services previously connected these efforts to a drop in fatal overdoses since 2021.

Fatal overdoses versus harm reduction (courtesy of AARI)

There are also new opportunities to learn how to administer the overdose reversal drug, which operates similar to a nasal spray.

Community members can get trained in using naloxone on June 7 at noon and 7 p.m. on Zoom. People can register by emailing [email protected] and can request naloxone, Fentanyl test strips and medical deactivation bags online.

In-person training and Narcan distribution is available later this month on May 17 and June 21 from 3-6 p.m. at DHS headquarters (2120 Washington Blvd, Room 112). No registration is required for in-person training.

As of last Wednesday, Arlington County police had investigated 55 incidents involving opioids this year, per county data. Since Jan. 1, 2023, there have been 20 opioid overdoses, of which six were fatal, according to ACPD.

While the overall fatality rate is dropping, Arlington is seeing elevated opioid use among youth, who gravitate toward counterfeit pressed pills that are increasingly laced with fentanyl.

There was a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School in January followed by a near-fatal teen overdose in a Ballston parking garage in March. The quick application of Narcan by first responders helped to save those who overdosed in the parking garage.

Those incidents revealed cracks in treatment options for youth in Arlington that are beginning to be remedied.

Some treatment options, like a new rehab facility, will take a while to open. In the meantime, Arlington Public Schools and the county have put money toward more education, substance abuse counselors, after-school programming.

After the FDA approved Narcan for over-the-counter use, APS announced it would be advancing plans to allow students to carry the nasal spray in schools, with parent permission and training, as early as May 26, WTOP reported.

Narcan is also stocked in emergency boxes throughout middle and high schools.

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