When the call comes in for an opiate overdose, Akron Fire District Chief Joseph Natko said paramedics drop everything and respond as fast as they can. But four to six minutes can pass from the time someone dials the phone to when a paramedic treats the patient.
When people overdose, Natko said they can seem intoxicated or unresponsive. And sometimes, they stop breathing.
"If they're not breathing, they're dying," Natko said.
If the patient or someone close to them has the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, the patient could receive a life-saving dose sooner than waiting for paramedics, Natko said.
"If they have the Narcan in hand, maybe they can change the outcome," Natko said.
That is the idea behind Leave It Behind, a new program that will allow Akron Fire EMS units to leave civilian naloxone kits with patients or family members.
Natko, who manages the EMS bureau, said the Akron Fire Department responds to 90 to 100 overdoses each month, with about 10 percent ending in deaths.
As of Thursday, the department had responded to more than 905 overdoses this year, including 90 fatalities, he said
Years into the opioid crisis, Natko said, there still are times when all of the department's 14 medic units are responding to overdose calls.
Starting Dec. 5, each medic unit is now stocked with civilian doses of naloxone. Natko said the department partnered with Summit County Public Health, which is supplying the kits that will be given out at the paramedic's discretion.
The department was given 150 kits that each contain two 4 milligram doses of the opioid overdose antidote in nasal sprays. Paramedics will train people on how to use the kits, and on what to do in the event of an overdose.
He said the kits generally cost about $120 at pharmacies. Summit County Public Health was able to pay for the kits using a grant from the Ohio Department of Health.
He said the kits can be lifesaving, but they do not replace the need to call 911. The pamphlets given with the kits give step-by-step instructions but also urge people to still call for emergency medical help.
"Just because you receive an antidote for the drug doesn't mean you're ok," Natko said.
Depending on the opioid, Natko said the drug can stay in the system much longer than the naloxone, and patients who overdose still will need treatment.
"This is simply to get somebody breathing again," he said.
The Leave It Behind program is not meant to replace other programs such as Project DAWN that provide naloxone to residents. He said paramedics often have interactions with people who could need the drug, and this is just another avenue for people to receive it.
The pamphlets given by paramedics with the kits also tell people how to get more naloxone from other places.
Natko said paramedics have already started distributing the kits. When kits are given out, paramedics will take the person's information and keep track of where the naloxone kits are going.
While the kits are being tracked, Natko said the department won't be limiting the amount of kits given to a person.
The fire department and Summit County Public Health will meet each month to review how the program is going, Natko said. He said the goal is to keep supplying the kits as long as they're available.