NH First Responders Making House Calls to Treat Overdose Cases

A new program allows communities to set up what some are calling “mobile Safe Stations,” a nod to the successful programs in Nashua and Manchester that encourage individuals to walk into any fire station and ask for help with substance use disorders.

The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that NH Project FIRST (First Responders Initiating Recovery, Support & Training) enlists “quick response teams” to return after an overdose call and offer to connect individuals with services at their local treatment hub, such as medication-assisted treatment, counseling, and recovery support.

Teams also will teach family members how to use rescue breathing and Narcan to revive an overdose victim.

The federal grant will allow the fire department to hire two part-time recovery coaches who will respond after an overdose in any of the 35 communities in its mutual aid area, according to Brenda Silva, the department’s administrative assistant.

The Project is funded through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

A firefighter and advanced EMT, Paula Holigan, manager of Project FIRST, said first responders are ideally suited to make these connections. “People open their homes to us,” she said. “They trust us; they respect us.”

Holigan added, “It’s a voluntary program; individuals have to agree to the initial home visit and any treatment services.”

Five New Hampshire fire departments are the first to receive grant funding.

Daniel Goonan, chief of NH Manchester’s FD, said in a US News and World Report article that at least half of his job is dedicated to dealing with the state’s opioid crisis.

Goonan says his FD has responded to more than 350 suspected opioid overdoses, 35 of which have been fatal, so far this year. “It’s out of our norm, but it’s what we have to deal with. … I treat this [opioid crisis] as an emergency,” he says.

Deaths resulting from fentanyl-related overdoses increased by 1,629 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to Lisa Marsch, director of Dartmouth College’s Center for Technology and Behavioral Health,  who contributed to a study supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The study investigated New Hampshire’s increase in fentanyl use and fentanyl-related deaths using available data and interviews with opioid consumers and first responders.

Marsch says people in New Hampshire are also producing fentanyl in their homes, using standard kitchen blenders.

Additionally, New Hampshire has the second lowest rate of spending on substance use treatment and preventionso it doesn’t provide enough resources for those addicted to opioids to recover, according to Marsch.

People are also having difficulty accessing Narcan, she says.