Reducing Fatal Overdoses With Technology

In a community just north of Detroit, drug overdoses kill more than one person per day.

These deaths are happening in Macomb County, where 380 people died from an overdose of fentanyl in 2017. The county has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the state; Michigan is ranked 15th overall for opioid deaths in the United States.

Dispatchers, police officers, sheriff's deputies, and first responders deal with the opioid crisis every day through answering 911 calls relating to unconscious or non-breathing individuals, administering naloxone (NARCAN), transporting individuals who have overdosed to medical facilities, and arresting individuals caught buying or selling drugs.

One of the biggest ways dispatchers with the Macomb County Sheriff's Communication Center keep officers and the community safer in opioid-related calls for service is through the use of their dispatch software.

According to Angela Elsey, communication administrator with the county, many times individuals will call 911 and report an individual is not breathing. As soon as dispatchers have the address, they can view prior history of all incidences at that address within their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) solution. This information helps dispatchers and first responders know if drug activity has been known to occur at the location.

"It's common for callers to not say that someone is using drugs," Elsey said. "They don't want to get in trouble. But we need to know if drugs are involved. First responders need to know if drugs are involved. That helps us to send the best response, which can ultimately help save a life."

In addition, dispatchers can create alerts on known locations and persons, which help advise responders. These are especially useful in situations where individuals have assaulted responders in the past.

"Responder safety is vitally important in any call for service," Elsey said. "We work to ensure that safety comes first with our community members and our first responders."

Using mobile CAD technology, a dispatcher assigned to a call for service can see the real-time location of all units in the field. To do this, dispatchers use the automatic vehicle location (AVL) functionality within their CAD system. This helps them see where first responders are located and who is equipped with NARCAN to use on the unresponsive subject.

Using this technology, dispatchers can cut down on time spent organizing the rescue and focus on getting officers to the scene as quickly and efficiently as possible. In an event like an overdose, every minute counts toward saving a life.

When first responders arrive on the scene where an individual isn't breathing, they begin CPR and administer NARCAN when necessary. NARCAN is used to reverse opioid overdose, specifically the respiratory depression that occurs in overdose victims. All first responders in Macomb County carry NARCAN to administer to individuals experiencing an overdose caused by opioids.

When it comes to making critical decisions quickly, dispatchers and first responders rely on information in their CAD system to make the best choices in overdose or suspect overdose situations. 

Not only does the fast communication through the pending calls make a difference when responding to a drug overdose, but the mapping feature helps dispatcher and first responders ensure they are using the fastest route to the geo-verified address.

Case Study Highlights

  • Dispatchers create call types to handle drug-related emergencies and add special response instructions (SRI) in CAD to aid dispatchers in facilitating calls
  • Scripts created in SRIs prompt dispatchers to notify a sergeant, call a rehab triage nurse, ask if the caller has access to NARCAN, or instruct a patrol unit with NARCAN on board to respond
  • SRIs help departments target resources in specific areas to improve response times and patient outcomes

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