reversing overdoses

During one week this spring, two young people died of opioid overdoses, one in Mt. Lebanon and one in Dormont, the result of a batch of heroin mixed with another narcotic that made it deadly.

It’s a scene that plays out more and more often all over the country. “Rarely do we see just heroin anymore,” says Deputy Chief Jesse Siefert of Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA).

For more than 20 years, MRTSA paramedics and EMTs have carried doses of naloxone (brand name Narcan), which if administered promptly can reverse an opioid overdose. Now, they won’t be the only Mt. Lebanon first responders to have it, thanks to a new state law: The Opioid Overdose Reversal Act (Act 139).

Once training is completed early this summer, both Mt. Lebanon police and firefighters will have doses of Narcan with them.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Police Chief Coleman McDonough, shortly before his retirement in May. “It’s a win all around.”

Siefert says Narcan works by immediately blocking the receptors in the body that receive the opioids. It has no side effects, and if the patient is on some other drug that is mimicking opioids, Narcan will have no effect but won’t cause harm.

The medics use an injectable form, but other first responders usually use nasal sprays, Seifert says, because they work a little slower, giving the patient a little more time to wake up and reducing the chance that they’ll become combative and difficult to handle.  Also, working without a needle is safer for both the police and fire staff and the patient.

Narcan is only to be used on patients who are at an “altered level,” Seifert says— either known narcotics users or people with drug paraphernalia around them who are not breathing well.

The drug is not limited to use by medical or public safety professionals. People who are addicted and their family members also may obtain Narcan to keep on hand in case of emergency. The Mt. Lebanon S.A.F.E. (Stop Addiction for Everyone) initiative provides information about how to obtain Narcan.

For more information on the legislation, which, among other things, gives immunity to people administering Narcan to someone he or she believes is suffering an overdose, visit