South Carolina

With Narcan needs on rise, this new Myrtle Beach FD program aims to help overdose victims

With opioid and heroin-related overdoses a constant issue nationwide, the Myrtle Beach Fire Department launched a new program aimed at offering treatment options to those suffering.

Following a rise in overdoses in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Department of Health and Environment Control approached the city’s fire department last year with the idea of starting a program called Community Outreach Paramedic Education, or Cope. The state-funded program, which went into effect last month, allows specially trained first responders to visit a person following a Narcan injection to offer support and treatment options.

With paramedics joined by a Myrtle Beach police officer and a mental health counselor from New Directions, Fire Chief Tom Gwyer said the program looks to put users on the path to recovery by increasing access to preventive care to stop repeat overdoses.

“At that moment, we can provide them with immediate mental health consultation, and our paramedics are trained to perform rapid HIV tests along with hepatitis tests, as well,” Gwyer said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “The project is in its infancy, but we’ve had some wonderful success already.”

Lt. Jonathan Evans said the department administered 191 doses of Narcan in 2018. This year it’s been used 221 times.

Lt. Dwayne Wright, one of nine specially-trained paramedics, said the department compiles a list of individuals treated with Narcan to make home visits. Visits are made every other week, he said, and the individual has the option to accept treatment or refuse it.

Wright said if treatment is refused, officials will provide them with information on local narcotics and alcoholics anonymous meetings. If accepted, paramedics will conduct a series of blood tests and the mental health counselor will provide a consultation and treatment options.

If a person can’t be located after three attempts, they will be removed from the list, Wright said.

Currently, the department has made contact with 11 individuals who agreed to be assessed and seek further treatment. Of the 11, Wright said eight were on their list and three asked for help, adding that one person was placed in a 90-day in-patient facility following a visit.

“We’re able to go out and meet them and offer them something in a non-emergent way to get them better so we don’t have to see them again during an emergency,” Wright said. “We’ve had a lot of positive questions and comments from others.”

He said the program has been very fulfilling and has brought something special to Myrtle Beach.

“These folks not only handle their basic fire department duties, but the number of things they do that you never think about,” City Manager John Pedersen said. “What they do on the beach and this sort of program, these are the folks that really do epitomize public service.”

While Wright said people have been “very receptive” of the program, he added that it wouldn’t rid the community of its drug problems.

“I think it’s definitely going to help curtail it a little bit,” Wright said. “It’s definitely going to help our community be safe and maybe our emergency responses will go down a little bit.”

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Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.