County officials to meet to tackle opiate epidemic

WEST CHESTER >> Representatives of four county agencies will gather at the Good Fellowship EMS Training Institute Wednesday to outline steps that are being taken to curb a drug overdose epidemic which claimed 97 lives in Chester County last year.

“People are dying every day from the opiate epidemic,” said Ethan Healey of Good Fellowship Ambulance. “I believe it is crucial that the community be aware of the problem and what Good Fellowship and other county agencies are doing to combat the epidemic. My hope is that the more community awareness that’s out there, the more lives will be saved.”

The presentation, which will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the third floor lecture hall on Montgomery Avenue, is intended to heighten awareness among emergency responders and the general public about the different initiatives underway within the county that tackle the opiate epidemic.

The four speakers are: Michael Noone of the Chester County District Attorney’s office, who will discuss the current opiate epidemic and the efforts of law enforcement to address the problem; Kimberly Liao of the Chester County Health Care Department’s drug overdose task, who will review results of the Pennsylvania youth survey of middle and high school students on drug and alcohol use; Kathy Collier of Chester County Drug & Alcohol Services, who will speak about their treatment services; and Healey, who is Project Naloxone Manager for Good Fellowship Ambulance, who will review data collected by law enforcement agencies

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Research confirms that overdose deaths are occurring across the county, Healey pointed out. More than half of the county’s municipalities-- north and south from, North Coventry to Elk Township, east and west from Tredyffrin to West Caln-- have been affected. Statistics show that drug overdose victims are divided equally among men and women and that those most afflicted are between the ages of 19 and 29.

Healey said that naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a nasal spray which has proved effective in reversing the symptoms of opiate overdoses. The use of naloxone for opiate treatment was kick-started in January 2014 when the Good Fellowship Board of Directors approved funding for the project, which provides all 47 police departments in Chester County with naloxone for each of its patrol units, along with training on how to administer the spray.

Since January 2015, there have been 165 naloxone uses, 156 of which have resulted in successful reversals, Healey said.

Last month, a West Goshen police officer saved the life of a young woman by administering Narcan.

“Police departments usually arrive on the scene a couple minutes prior to the ambulance. When the police officer recognizes that the person is exhibiting overdose symptoms, such as labored breathing, blue lips, blue fingernails and patient is unresponsive, police will administer Narcan.

“If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs,” said Healey, “we encourage you to get the nasal spray, which is available over-the-counter at pharmacies. We also encourage you to learn to apply the relatively new cardiac pulmonary respiration technique, known as hands-on CPR, a technique which could be life-saving if a person has stopped breathing.”