Vancouver firefighters leaving Narcan behind on overdose calls in an effort to save lives

The Vancouver fire department is leaving a dose of Narcan behind for anyone who gets overdose treatment from its first responders.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Vancouver Fire Department is leaving a dose of Narcan behind for anyone who gets overdose treatment from its first responders.

The effort began May 1 and fire department crews have already given out 92 Narcan kits to those they’ve revived. It’s in response to a skyrocketing surge of opioid-related overdoses, thanks to the rise of fentanyl on the streets.

“Narcan is a lifesaving medication and leaving behind a dose of Narcan is a life saver measure for citizens. It’s a chance for citizens to be able to save a life,” said Dr. Marlow Macht, Medical Program Director, Clark County EMS. 

Vancouver fire crews administered Narcan 583 times in 2023, nearly double the 342 times the year before and officials said it’s not slowing down. They said leaving a dose behind with someone who will likely use opioids again makes sense.  

“A lot of times they’ll go right back out and look for their next high, so when they do that, they would have a kit available to them that a bystander could hopefully provide that lifesaving medication,” said Robb Milano, EMS Division Chief with the Vancouver Fire Department.

Officials said the use of deadly drugs, including fentanyl, continues to grow in Vancouver, adding that overdose deaths in the unsheltered population were a key factor behind the City’s homelessness state of emergency declared in Nov. 2023. 

From January through April, Vancouver Fire responded to 696 medical/EMS calls related to homelessness. Officials noted that while not all deaths can be attributed to overdose, 18 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness have died since Dec. 2023 – representing a 50% increase from last year.

The Washington Department of Health makes the Leave Behind Narcan program possible, by covering costs and providing the replacement doses. Macht is getting the same program going with other Clark County first responders, including ambulance service AMR. Other jurisdictions are also utilizing the program across the state. 

In Vancouver, fire department officials hope leaving behind a dose of Narcan may save someone’s life and give them another chance to get help and recover from addiction.

“Because the majority of the time we revive them in the streets, they refuse to go to the hospital and half the time they’re walking down the street before we finished our paperwork with them, so offering them this kit just allows them to have that extra safeguard and hopefully one of the times that they’ve had the reversal medication, they start seeking help,” said Milano.