VANCOUVER, Wash. — The latest report from Vancouver's contracted ambulance company showed opioid overdoses in the region appear to be dropping so far in 2019 compared with the year prior.
The annual report is from American Medical Response (AMR) Clark County medical program director Dr. Lynn Wittwer.
He reported that ambulance first responders reported 243 possible opioid calls in 2018. From January to June 2019, that number dropped to 76 calls — on track for far fewer opioid overdose responses this year.
"This year, we're less than half, to this date. Things are possibly improving out there," Wittwer said.
That's not true of the rest of the state, where the number of EMS opioid responses are on track to surpass last year. Washington's first responders have logged 3,221 opioid-related calls as of June.
If that rate continues, 2019's opioid responses will exceed 2018's total of 5,547 calls.
Wittwer partially credits the drop to the increasing availability of Naloxone, a drug that when administered immediately can counteract the effects of opioids and pull a user's body back from the edge of a fatal overdose.
"It kind of indicates there may be a little decrease in the activity right now. Or, it also could be interpreted that the county health department started an act of program giving out Narcan," Wittwer said.
Area first responders agree. Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina says the availability of the life-saving opioid overdose drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, has made a positive difference.
All EMTs in the county are equipped with the drug. However, Chief Molina says more needs to be done to prevent opioid overdoses in the first place.
"It can be hard, disheartening – because.... our response system is one thing, but there's a bigger system with the health department and state and you just keep hoping it's going to – at some point – get enough resources that we can prevent them even having to go out there," Molina said.
The AMR report is good news for local EMTs who are on the ground responding to these calls every day.
"I think seeing that data will really resonate well with the employees all across the county because they know what they're doing; the treatment that they're providing, the classes that they take, the education that they do is paying off and showing positive results," SW Washington AMR Regional Director Rocco Roncarati said.
The numbers from the report are encouraging, but Clark County public health officials warn the new report offers only a snapshot of the bigger picture of the opioid crisis in the area.
While the report highlights that the number of opioid-related EMS calls are down for 2019, the number of opioid-related deaths has not changed much in the last few years, according to Chris Goodwin with Clark County Public Health.
The most recent data from Clark County shows that in 2017 there were 7.3 unintentional opioid overdose deaths for every 100,000 people. Statewide, that rate is 9.3.
As for all opioid overdose deaths, Clark County had 8.3 per every 100,000 people, while the statewide rate is 9.8.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, there were 344 overdose deaths involving opioids in the state in 2017. An age-adjusted rate of 8.1 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Narcan is available to the public, which Molina says may be a factor contributing to less calls.