Fentanyl use as pain medication in ambulances down in Mass. cities
According to figures provided by Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher, fentanyl administrations are down 51 percent in New Bedford, Fairhaven and Acushnet
By Curt Brown
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Use of fentanyl as a pain medication on ambulances in New Bedford, Fairhaven and Acushnet is down 51 percent for the first half of the year, officials said.
According to figures provided by Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher, fentanyl administrations are down collectively in New Bedford, Fairhaven and Acushnet from 129 to 63 for a decrease of 51 percent for the period of Jan. 1 to June 30 in 2017 and 2018.
The decrease is being attributed to a decision last year by the state Medical Services Committee allowing the use of IV Tylenol as an alternative to fentanyl, morphine or ice for pain management and the subsequent adding of IV Tylenol on ambulances in the three communities, Gallagher said.
Local EMS officials approached Dr. Matthew Bivens, director of emergency medical services at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford and Southcoast Health, and Bivens championed the change through the state Medical Services Committee.
The hope was that IV Tylenol would limit people's exposure to fentanyl, a major cause for SouthCoast's high number of overdoses and deaths and opioid problem.
"A 51 percent decrease between the three communities is significant, something we should be proud of," Gallagher said. "At the most local level, we're doing our part to turning this around."
"I think it is great. It reflects a commitment to use narcotics less," said Bivens, who was named SouthCoast Man of the Year for 2017 by The Standard-Times, in part for his work in getting IV Tylenol adopted as part of the state's EMS protocol.
The decrease in fentanyl administrations is down across the board in the three communities: Acushnet has dropped from 12 to 4 for a 66 percent decline; Fairhaven has dropped from 58 to 18 for a 69 percent decline; and New Bedford has dropped from 59 to 41 for a 30 percent decline, according to Gallagher's figures.
The three EMS services have administered 25 doses of IV Tylenol for pain management, Gallagher said. Acushnet has administered more doses of IV Tylenol than fentanyl to date in 2018, and "no one has complained.
"It relieves pain and isn't addictive," he said of IV Tylenol.
Fentanyl remains an appropriate use in some cases to treat severe pain or trauma, he said.
Bivens said he has not seen the numbers of fentanyl administrations for Dartmouth, but he anticipates they will be down for the same time period, he said. "I expect everyone's use of narcotics will be down," he said. "It has been a regional and state focus."
He said paramedics stopped the practice earlier this year of asking patients their pain level on a scale of 1 to 10, which has led some to be treated with a narcotic for a runny nose.
He has also seen cases where people received fentanyl for carpal tunnel syndrome, Bivens said.
"It's kind of an expectation that is created. It creates an expectation that pain levels should be zero," he said.
Copyright 2018 The Standard-Times