New figures from the Vermont Health Department show the deadly impact opiate overdoses continue having in the state.
In 2015, the state tallied 34 accidental deaths involving heroin. That figure is flat from 2014, but up from zero in 2010, according to the Health Department data. The potent opiate painkiller fentanyl was involved in 29 deaths, the new data showed. That is an increase of 11 fentanyl deaths over the year before.
In case they need to render aid to someone suffering an opiate overdose, officers with the Burlington Police Department now carry naloxone, often known by the name Narcan. The medication, administered by mist through the nose of someone experiencing an opiate overdose, can reverse the effects of an OD.
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On February 26, the department announced it had its first Narcan save the night before, in the middle of traffic, at the busy intersection of Riverside and Intervale Avenues.
"He literally came back to life within minutes," said Chief Brandon del Pozo of the Burlington Police Department, describing the 56-year-old Colchester man who suffered an overdose in his car.
Del Pozo said police records indicated the driver had a history of heroin use, which helped his officers know to use Narcan. The man had no pulse when officers arrived to the stopped car, del Pozo said, but the overdose reversal treatment worked.
"Once he was revived, my officers arrested him," del Pozo told necn. "He had no business being behind the wheel of a car or under the influence, but we'd rather have a living person responsible for his actions than have someone dead by virtue of an overdose."
Del Pozo said his community outreach team helped the man secure a slot in a residential drug treatment center.
Across Vermont in recent years, Narcan has been widely deployed to loved ones of drug users, to EMTs, and others. It is credited with several life-saving OD reversals, but a specific number is difficult to pinpoint, because some of the data relies on family members or friends reporting the use of the reversal kits back to groups such as Howard Center in Burlington, whose Safe Recovery program distributes overdose rescue kits.
In the past two years in particular, Vermont made it a priority to strive to reduce overdose deaths and make inroads in the public health crisis of opiate addiction. Expanded treatment options, police and prosecutorial focus on drug trafficking, and community-based efforts are some of the ways Vermont is continuing to attack the problem.
In late February, the Upper Darby Township Police Department released surveillance video taken on a public bus outside of Philadelphia. The video showed a passenger on the bus allegedly injecting heroin. The reported drug use was too much for the man, and he collapsed on video.
The video then showed police rushing to his aid, using Narcan to revive him, and he walked off the bus on his own power.
For more information on accessing naloxone in Vermont, visit this website from the Vermont Health Department.