EMS/FRONTLINES Partnership Increases Naloxone Usage by First Responders 

#EMSWEEK (May 17-21): We are thankful for our EMS staff at Houston Recovery Center as well as all emergency services staff in Houston area.

Most people during the pandemic experienced some element of change in the workplace, such as remote meetings and working from home. But one industry that couldn’t work from home is our first responders.

EMS/FRONTLINES Partnership Increases Naloxone Usage by First Responders  1

Dr. Kevin Schulz, Assistant EMS Physician Director of Houston Fire Department

“They still have to be out on the street and take care of people in the same way,” states Dr. Kevin Schulz, assistant EMS physician director of Houston Fire Department. “And do it with an increased scrutiny for their own protection and level of risk.”

Schulz, who serves on the Advisory Board of our FRONTLINES (First Responder Opioid Overdose Naloxone Training and Link into Needed Evidence-based treatment Services) program, is responsible for ensuring the 3,200-person department is trained on how to use naloxone and how to identify an overdose. Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a medication that reverses the effects of opioids and can rapidly restore respiratory drive in people suffering from a heroin or prescription drug overdose. This opioid grant provides Narcan to first responders, which they have only had on a small subset of Houston Fire Department emergency vehicles. Schulz says the fire fighters have responded well to the training, even as they squeeze it in around a high-volume of runs in a 24-hour shift.

“I can say the FRONTLINES program has absolutely brought more awareness and utilization of Narcan to heavy apparatus first responders,” Schulz relates. “I think FRONTLINES has made a big difference in Houston.”

HFD receives roughly 1,000 calls for service daily. Of those, 800 are a request for medical service. Schulz says HFD’s 103 transport units can’t keep up with the demand so they routinely use heavy apparatus fire trucks as first responders, since all HFD fire fighters are EMT trained.

Schulz describes how critical even a few minutes are in an opiate overdose as a person progresses from respiratory depression to respiratory arrest and finally cardiac arrest.

“Since first responders can give Narcan, they make a difference in preventing overdose from progressing to cardiac arrest,” Schulz says. “The best way to resuscitate someone from cardiac arrest is to keep them from going into it.”

Schulz says two other critical aspects have emerged from the FRONTLINES partnership. One is EMS staff have become aware of Houston Recovery Center services. The second is he believes patients admitted to hospitals face strong stigma regarding their opiate use and opiate overdose. FRONTLINES wellness advocates, who meet with the overdose survivor at the hospital and educate them and their family on recovery options, help dissipate this stigma for the patient.

“The fact that we as Houston Fire Department and we as Houston Recovery Center are treating opioid use as a disease process — rather than the mindset that the survivor will walk out of the emergency room and we’ll see them again next week – is powerful,” Schulz states.

Schulz believes that the more Narcan there is in the community, particularly in the locations that may encounter an overdose situation, the more likely lives will be saved.