Madison Fire Ambulances, Community Paramedics to Carry Buprenorphine


Department Takes Innovative Approach to Tackling Opioid Crisis in Our Community

Effective Friday, March 1, the Madison Fire Department will begin to carry a new medicine designed to help those struggling with opioid addiction. 

Buprenorphine is a prescription drug used in the treatment of heroin and other opioid dependence. This FDA-approved medication is safe and effective for treating acute opioid withdrawal symptoms and ongoing treatment of opioid use disorder. It has also been shown to reduce illicit opioid use, increase retention in treatment programs, and reduce opioid-related mortality.

Buprenorphine is an oral medication that acts on the opioid receptors in the brain. It can immediately help decrease withdrawal symptoms and provide protection against an accidental overdose over the next 24 hours. 

The Madison Fire Department is proud to continue taking a progressive, integrative approach to helping people grappling with mental health and substance use disorders. Patients who are given Buprenorphine will subsequently be referred to the MFD Community Paramedicine program for a follow-up call or visit, and Community Paramedics will offer to connect them with outpatient treatment programs and harm reduction services. 

Additionally, the Madison Fire Department is working with local hospitals to increase the chances of success by encouraging hospitals to offer Buprenorphine in the emergency department, send patients home with a prescription for Buprenorphine, and link patients to ongoing outpatient treatment. Studies have shown that up to 49% of patients that are started on Buprenorphine within the hospital emergency department are still in treatment programs 30 days after discharge. 

In 2020, one out of three people who experienced a fatal overdose in Dane County had an EMS encounter the year prior, and of those people, one out of four had an EMS encounter within 30 days of their fatal overdose. By making Buprenorphine available in the pre-hospital setting, Madison Fire is not only prepared to save lives, but to guide those who are struggling with opioid dependence toward a new path: a path to recovery.

Under the guidance of Medical Director Dr. Megan Gussick, Madison Fire will proactively assess data results related to the use of Buprenorphine to inform the agency's approach and determine the program's effectiveness in ushering people toward rehabilitation.

"Our vision extends beyond mere crisis intervention; we aspire to facilitate a life-changing intervention for individuals teetering on the brink of mortality due to overdose, guiding them towards a path of recovery," said Madison Fire Department Medical Director Dr. Megan Gussick.  

The Madison Fire Department is among a small number of EMS agencies in the nation and the fourth in Wisconsin to carry Buprenorphine, highlighting the department's commitment to a forward-thinking approach to addressing the opioid crisis locally. In addition to carrying Buprenorphine on its ambulances, Madison Fire will also equip its Community Paramedics and CARES teams with this life-saving drug.

Buprenorphine blister pack
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