Opioid misuse rose considerably after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with South Carolina experiencing a 49% elevation in suspected opioid overdoses and first responder naloxone treatments over the same period in 2019. The ability for first responders to administer opioid overdose antidotes is crucial for saving lives.
Since 2015, the Law Enforcement Officer Naloxone, or LEON, program has trained and equipped more than 10,000 law enforcement officers across the state in the proper administration of naloxone. This has led to a 28% increase in the administration of opioid antidotes in January – September 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
Complementary to LEON is the Reducing Opioid Loss of Life, or ROLL, program. Administered by the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, ROLL trains fire department personnel to administer the opioid antidote naloxone. The program provides doses of naloxone for free to fire departments that do not provide licensed EMS services. ROLL currently includes more than 1,700 firefighters across the state.
However, fire departments with licensed EMS services cannot access naloxone through ROLL, forcing them to pay $30 to $47 per dose. The restriction exists because departments with licensed EMS services can theoretically charge a patient’s insurance to recoup the cost. In reality, overdose victims often don’t have insurance. Also, patients often refuse ambulance transport after being revived, preventing costs from being recovered. If there’s no transport, there’s no chance of recovering costs.
ROLL and LEON receive funding from a $3.2 million five-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That funding will run out August 2021. That agency, SCDHEC and the Municipal Association are currently working to identify state funding sources to sustain and expand both programs beyond August 2021.
The Municipal Association’s 2021 Advocacy Initiatives include expanding the availability of naloxone to all fire and emergency medical service first responders.