MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. -- Drug overdoses, especially involving heroin and prescription painkillers, are on the rise across West Michigan.
From Branch to Muskegon County, law enforcement officials tell FOX 17 they're seeing more overdoses, more frequently. In Branch County, officials saw three heroin overdoses in just one week this month, and two were deadly.
In Muskegon, first responders are averaging one overdose call per day, while overdoses in Ottawa County have quadrupled in the past five years, according to Lt. Andy Fias, with the Michigan State Police West Michigan Enforcement Team, or WEMET.
“For sure our worst problem is up here in Muskegon County, you can go out and buy the same $20 worth of heroin and get more heroin and a better high than what you’ll get off a $20 purchase, whether it’s morphine or oxycodone," Fias said. “And we’re trying to get a handle on that.”
While the number of overdoses continue to rise, so does the focus on a drug that can actually reverse an overdose and save a life in an instant.
Narcan—also known by its generic equivalent, Naloxone—is an antidote that targets the brain receptors affected by opiate drugs like heroin. When administered, it can reverse the depression of the central nervous system, respiratory system, and hypo tension in a matter of seconds. If given to someone who isn't experiencing an overdose, the drug becomes benign and has virtually no effect or side effects.
“It blocks those receptors. It’s going to block of the high immediately," said Kyle McKenzie, a paramedic with Pro Med.
McKenzie said paramedics have been equipped with Narcan for years and have had successful results. He said being able to administer the drug is one of the most rewarding calls to make as a paramedic.
“You’re bringing someone who was minutes from death right around and saving their life," he said.
Soon every first responder in the state, including police, firefighters and basic EMTs, will be required to have Narcan following legislation passed and signed late last fall by Gov. Snyder.
McKenzie welcomes the move because paramedics aren't always the first to arrive to an overdosing call, he said.
“Some people might not make it if someone wasn’t there to give it to them," he said. "If we’re not there to give it to them and someone can do it quicker, we’re going to save more lives.”
But the requirements don't come without some hang ups, including concerns over costs, according to Tom Schmiedeknecht, president of ProMed. Each kit can range between $60 to $100, or more.
“There have been shortages now of Narcan and also a price increase. It’s gone up twice," Schmiedeknecht told FOX 17.
“With us implementing new medications and training, that increases costs to the agencies to make sure their staff knows what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Discussions are currently happening in counties across West Michigan to determine how to best implement the new policy. Medical Control Authorities in 13 counties—Ionia, Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, Newaygo, Mecosta, Oceana, Mason, Montcalm, Osceola, Lake, Clare and Isabella—are working to meet the pending deadline, according to Rich Szczepanek, EMS Systems Administrator with the Ottawa Medical Control Board Authority.
"Through our Regional Medical Control Consortium we are working on developing a protocol for law enforcement and First Responders regarding the use of Narcan, which will have to be approved by the state," he told FOX 17 by email.
"We have to determine how much of the drug needs to be obtained, how it is to be distributed to all our law enforcement and fire department first responders, how it will be stored and accounted for and then conduct the training for all these personnel."
Schmiedeknecht said his paramedics from ProMed will be involved in the training that will eventually happen in Muskegon and neighboring counties.
The new Narcan law also allows family members of known addicts to receive a prescription to have on hand.
The drug can be administered intravenously or through a nasal spray.
Schmiedeknecht warns the potential of the drug is not a solution to the larger problem of addiction. Some critics have argued the it could encourage addicts to exploit the drug.
Several police agencies in the Lansing area and Metro Detroit have already begun equipping officers with Narcan kits.