Fitch-Rona EMS fights back against overdose increase with new ‘Leave a Dose Behind’ Narcan program

MADISON, Wis. – Amidst an increase in substance abuse and overdoses nationally and locally, Fitch-Rona EMS is pioneering a new program aimed at saving lives.

Fitch-Rona EMS Deputy Chief Jeff Dostalek acknowledged the lights, sirens and excitement can be part of his career’s allure, but said “where the rubber really meets the road is saving somebody’s life.”

With the about 35,000 to 40,000 people living in the Fitchburg and Verona communities he serves, that now means using naloxone, brand-name Narcan, more and more often.

“Narcan is a lifesaver,” Dostalek said of the drug that can bring people back from opioid overdoses. “It’s an amazing drug. It’s not very expensive in reality.”

Pandemic contributes to high volume of overdose calls

Fitch-Rona EMS has seen a 73% increase in naloxone administration this year compared to the same time period of January through June last year. So far this year, they’ve administered 45 doses compared to a total of 66 in 2020 and 61 in 2019.

“Overdoses, alcoholism has certainly increased,” Dostalek said, adding that it can be attributed in part to the pandemic.

Countywide, Dostalek says naloxone use is up since 2019 too. He gave Dane County statistics showing 727 naloxone doses administered in 2019, 876 in 2020, and 511 so far this year. When comparing naloxone administration January through June each of those years, the county has seen a 54% increase since 2019.

Dane County also saw an 18% increase in suspected alcohol or substance abuse emergencies in 2020, which was significant enough to increase that category to the eighth most common reason for EMS dispatch.

“Coming out of the pandemic and the situation people have been in, mental health is a big thing, and we really are trying to address some of those concerns,” Dostalek said. “That’s what we’re here for is to help people, be proactive, not always just respond to calls. There’s more to EMS than that.”

Fitch-Rona EMS launches ‘Leave a Dose Behind’ program

To make sure they’re not leaving anyone behind, Fitch-Rona EMS is leaving something else behind. After saving someone from an overdose, responders can leave an extra Narcan kit with the patient and their family. It’s based on a “Leave a Dose Behind” program in Baltimore County, which Dostalek stumbled upon.

“A lot of people would say you’re enabling them to keep doing it. I say, I don’t care how many times I have to give it to them,” Dostalek said.

That’s because if the kits, armed with information on resources, get the patient closer to help, Dostalek said they’ve done their job.

“I don’t care about the lights and sirens, and I don’t really care about call volume,” he said. “What I really care about is, did we make a difference in somebody’s life? And this is an opportunity to make a difference in somebody’s life.”

Dostalek thanks Public Health Madison & Dane County and Safe Communities for their help in securing the Narcan.

The program launched about two weeks ago. Crews haven’t responded to any overdose calls Dostalek is aware of, but they’re trained and ready to leave the Narcan kits.

After getting the program established at Fitch-Rona EMS, he hopes it will catch on with other emergency agencies in the area.