What if a synthetic opioid more potent than users have dealt with should burst into the region, causing a rash of overdoses; would responders be ready?
More than 100 local medical professionals gathered Tuesday to talk about the procedures and steps necessary in the event of an opioid overdose outbreak — and how to keep themselves safe first, so they could attend to those who overdosed.
Dr. David Kirchke, medical director for the Northeast Tennessee Department of Health office, said the planning seminar helps first responders be ready to address an unusual number of overdose cases happening at the same time.
“We’re doing a table-top exercise to help us plan for the possibility of an opioid overdose outbreak,” Kirchke said. “That would be a large number of overdoses or unusual number of overdoses in a short period of time.
“Most likely it would be related to a more potent synthetic opioid coming into the drug supply, like synthetic fentanyl, that would be more potent than people expect, so you’d have a large number of overdoses because they were using a product they weren’t familiar with.”
Professionals who attended work in fire, police, EMS, emergency management, probation, addiction recovery, anti-drug coalitions and medical facilities — the same people on the front line of response to a drug overdose outbreak.
“It’s a good, diverse group of people who would be working together if such a scenario happened,” Kirchke said.
He said there have been opioid outbreaks in Tennessee, including one in Middle Tennessee where “there was a cluster of six cases related to a synthetic fentanyl imported into the community by a drug dealer.
“Nationwide we’ve heard about non-opioid outbreaks like the outbreak from K2, the synthetic marijuana in Connecticut,” he said. “There were 90 people overdosed in a city park. But there’s been other opioid overdose outbreaks in other states, so it’s just a matter of time until it happens here.”
Kirchke said the goal of the seminar was for first responders to be ready for when an outbreak occurs.
Some of the things discussed included how first responders would need to protect themselves from exposure first in order to care for victims and how to ensure the supply of naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, isn’t depleted.