Spokane Valley Fire uses new mapping system to track opioid hot spots

Spokane Valley Fire uses new mapping system to track opioid hot spots

In 2017, 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, with almost 200 people dying a day. It was the worst year for drug overdoses in the country’s history and the Inland Northwest is not immune to the epidemic.

By using a new tool, the Spokane Valley Fire Department is hoping to cut down on opioid overdoses in the area and save lives. The department is putting a new mapping system to the test, to get a better idea of “hot spots” for opioid overdoses in Spokane Valley.

The map breaks down the department’s opioid overdose calls from 2016-2017, in turn showing us where first responders administered the most Narcan, which is an overdose-reversing drug. The map’s red areas illustrate where the most Narcan was given, whereas the green zones show where the drug wasn’t even given once over the course of the year.

EMS division chief Rich Llewellyn said he noticed a spike in overdoses back when he was battalion chief in 2014, but he couldn’t quite get a grasp on just how dire the situation was in Spokane Valley.

“It’s a gut feeling and it’s not driven by data,” Llewellyn said. “We wanted to look at what our actual experience was.”

He set out to create a new mapping system while working on a research project for the National Fire Academy. Llewellyn compiled the department’s overdose calls to create the map. He told KXLY4 Narcan was given to 88 patients from the last quarter of 2016 through the first three quarters of 2017.

The department saw a 20 percent increase in Narcan administrations this year, Llewellyn said.

“It really is miraculous to see somebody who’s dead or nearly dead, and administer Narcan and their recovery is very rapid,” Llewellyn said. “They may go from us being close to performing CPR on them to talking to us within a minute.”

He said the hot spots sit in short-term housing areas, like apartments and motels.

“It has a relatively transient population — people are moving out and moving in all the time,” Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn said today, people are moving to harsher opioids like fentanyl.

“It’s similar to heroin or morphine but just a lot stronger, so it doesn’t take as much to create an overdose situation where someone would stop breathing and subsequently die,” Llewellyn said.

He hopes this system will cut down on overdoses. By tracking hot spots, he believes first responders can be proactive in helping and educating their neighbors before things turn deadly.

“Our focus is on protecting the community before we get the 9-1-1 call,” Llewellyn said. “It provides an opportunity for us to capture those people as far as being able to get them information if they’re moving into an apartment, we can provide information to the apartment complex itself with their move-in packet that might help them address Narcan use or opioid use.”

The department will work with the Spokane Regional Health District to create educational material for those living in the opioid hot spots. Valley Fire will have an even clearer picture at the end of the month when they get new numbers on overdoses.