A pilot program led by the Connecticut Poison Control Center and UConn Health’s Emergency Medicine department has been tracking opioid overdoses in Hartford in real time to improve surveillance of the opioid epidemic. More than 1,000 people died from opioid overdoses in Connecticut in 2017, including 80 in Hartford.
The project, launched May 1, has emergency medical service (EMS) personnel in Hartford report overdose cases to the state’s Poison Control Center, part of UConn’s Emergency Medicine department, immediately after the incident. The Center’s poison information specialists ask the emergency responders a series of brief questions and record the data.
The test program is a collaboration with American Medical Response (AMR) ambulances, which provide coverage to two-thirds of Hartford’s communities, and nearby Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center’s emergency department.
“This new program is increasing our awareness of what is happening on the ground,” says Peter Canning, UConn John Dempsey Hospital’s EMS coordinator.
UConn Health hopes the program establishes an effective early warning system to alert public health and safety officials and community stakeholders of any sudden spike in overdoses or the potential threat of a potent batch of opioid drugs released in certain neighborhoods.
Since the program began in May, the AMR ambulance crews in Hartford reported 211 overdose cases to the Connecticut Poison Control Center. In 147 of the reported cases, emergency crews had to administer the opioid antidote naloxone to revive the overdose victims.
Early data attributes 98 percent of the overdoses where the substance was known to heroin and fentanyl, and 2 percent to other opioids such as oxycodone and methadone. The majority of victims — 77 percent — were male, 51 percent of whom were between the ages of 35 and 49. In addition, 67 percent of the overdoses occurred in public areas such as city parks, roadways, sidewalks, and restrooms. EMS also reported cases of victims who thought they bought cocaine, but instead overdosed on powdered heroin.
This fall the pilot program may expand to include Aetna Ambulance Service in the south end of Hartford.
“This new program is an important step forward and a great example of multi-agency collaboration,” says Dr. Suzanne Doyon, Connecticut Poison Control Center medical director. “Rapid real-time identification of potentially troubled areas of the state is important to public health. Using the connectivity and round-the-clock expertise of the Poison Control Center is both novel and forward-thinking.
“We hope this becomes the model for reporting statewide. The ultimate goal here is to reduce overdoses and save lives.”