PA fire department receives grant to treat opioid disorder

Community paramedics to administer medication in field

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Fire Department has received a grant up to $350,000 to benefit its co-response program and to administer medications for opioid use disorder in the field.

The funding, from the University of Washington’s school of social work, comes in collaboration with the Co-Responder Outreach Alliance (CROA) and covers the period between May 1 this year and June 30, 2025.

It comes in addition to approval from the state Department of Health on Feb. 29 to expand community paramedics’ ability to administer buprenorphine, which can ease opioid withdrawal symptoms for overdose patients after they receive narcan, Port Angeles Fire Chief Derrell Sharp said.

“Buprenorphine binds to the same receptor sites as opioids do, but it doesn’t give them the euphoric sensation,” Sharp said.

The city fire department responded to an average of four overdoses per week in 2023, he said, and about 40 percent were being transported for additional care. Sixty percent refused to be transported, Sharp said.

“Often what we’re finding, especially with the amount of narcan throughout the city, is that crews are responding to an overdose to a patient who has acute opioid withdrawal symptoms and refusing transport to the hospital,” he said.

“Our hypothesis was we were seeing repeat overdoses. Many were seeking to use again to address the withdrawal, some the same day.”

The community paramedics respond along with firefighter/paramedics and can stay on the scene to help the patient, Sharp said. Meanwhile, it frees up 9-1-1 services so department personnel can respond to the next emergency, he said.

“Their goal is to respond and get them to definitive care,” Sharp said.

The goal is to get the overdose patient to consent to being treated with buprenorphine because it will increase the chances of that patient agreeing to more specialized services through the Port Angeles Police Department’s REdisCOVERY program, Sharp said.

REdisCOVERY includes a full-time social worker who can connect the patient to behavioral health or substance abuse programs, housing or shelter, the food bank or other crisis services through community partners such as the Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic.

In a small sample size, the statistics flipped, Sharp said. Six patients consented and enrolled in medication-assisted treatment. Two refused services and there was one fatality, he said.

Port Angeles was one of nine fire departments to receive the grant funding, and it received the full amount requested, Sharp said. Four departments in Port Angeles’ innovation category received the award, he added. They included South County in Snohomish, Walla Walla and Spokane.

“The goal is to identify best practices that can then be published for other departments across state and nation, and it helps set them up with buprenorphine for establishing, responding and connecting with health care entities within the community,” he said.

Sharp said the program has been successful because partnerships within the city of Port Angeles that include the North Olympic Healthcare Network, Olympic Medical Center, Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic, Peninsula Behavioral Health and Reflections Counseling.

“If we can get people connected to the treatment they are in need of and they no longer have an addiction to opioids, they will no longer suffer overdoses because of that addiction,” Sharp said. “We will see not only a decrease in overdoses within the community, but we’ll see an increase in individuals with substance-use disorder receiving medication-assisted treatment to put them back on the road to recovery.”

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Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-417-3521 or by email at brian.mclean@peninsulanews.us.

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