N.H. Fire, EMS Personnel Learn About Psychology of Addiction

N.H. Fire, EMS Personnel Learn About Psychology of Addiction

News Dec 12, 2017

Dec. 12—SALEM, N.H.—Even after decades of service and treating hundreds of struggling drug addicts every year, many fire departments are realizing that they have more to learn about opioid abuse and recovery.

Over the last month, the Salem Fire Department welcomed addiction treatment specialists from Addiction Recovery Services and the state' Addiction Crisis Line to discuss drug addiction. Other local agencies like the Derry Fire Department have conducted similar trainings in the last few months.

"I know that, the class I sat in, my eyes opened up... We have people who have been here 20-plus years, and they were even more taken aback by what they heard," Salem Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director Brian Allard said of the sessions.

Salem's efforts are a part of many New Hampshire firefighters and fire officials' endeavors to better understand the ever-changing epidemic that is rattling the state.

Salem firefighters have been responding to drug overdose calls for several decades, but the numbers jumped in 2014. Fatalities have also increased, for reasons the department is still uncertain of.

Over the last couple of years, Salem staff have also seen more people resisting transport to hospitals and treatment after being administered Narcan.

Amidst this, public safety crews around the state are reporting a gap in their opioid education.

"Our training really focuses on how to treat the emergency situation and overdose... How we're handling it is different than how we're trained," said Nick Mercuri, director of strategy and planning for the state's fire training and emergency services division.

The Department of Safety is currently working with the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop an addiction awareness program in which trainees will learn about opioid abuse's social, psychological and physiological causes.

In New Hampshire, there are three levels of emergency medical service providers—Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), advanced EMTs and paramedics. Every single firefighter in the state needs to certified as an EMT, at minimum, and a third of Salem's 60 firefighters are paramedics, according to Allard.

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At the New England EMS Institute in Manchester, all students learn about the effects of different drugs, chemicals and other substances, as well as public health issues like opioid addiction. But the psychology behind addiction is not a substantial part of the curriculum.

Paramedic students receive the most training directly related to opiates during their 16-month-long education, including lectures on addiction and neurology, according to the program's lead EMS educator Jonathan Snow.

Drug addiction is a small portion of the curriculum, Snow noted, estimating that paramedic students spend roughly 12 of their 1,200 hours of instruction on subjects related to opioid addiction. Firefighting students and crews also don't generally hear from recovered addicts or people who have actually had Narcan administered to them, according to officials.

Tales of the latter were one of the most eye-opening in Salem.

"Going into this, I didn't really think that this would come about, but the first responders hadn't thought about what it feels like to be revived," said former drug addict Ryan Fowler, who now works as a recovery specialist.

"A lot of them just think they're taking away the high, but it's more than that. It's an extreme panic reaction, and it's very painful."

While EMS courses teach the pharmaceutical causes behind addiction, Fowler and his colleague John Iudice assert that first responders should also regard drug addiction as mental health condition more about in order to promote recovery.

"Explaining addiction and what it is to people as a learning process helps, because looking at it is anything else makes it confusing as to why people take so long to get better," Iudice said. "It's sort of a developing understanding of what addiction is, and some people are too black and white in their thinking."

Addiction Recovery Services is located at 23 Stiles Road in Salem, and can also be reached at 603-433-6250.

The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
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