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Jefferson County ambulances equipped with drug safes for narcotics

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The Jefferson Emergency Medical Services Cooperative recently made it possible for some local ambulance squads to receive a total $15,300 of necessary equipment in order to remain advanced life support medical providers.

That funding, provided to the cooperative by the Empire State Development Corp., will provide tracking software and permanently mount drug safes in the squads’ 18 ambulances. Those safes, owned by the cooperative — which operates under the auspices of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization — will ensure narcotics, such as Valium and morphine, are always secured.

Former Watertown Police Chief Joseph J. Goss, who runs FDRHPO’s Emergency Medical Services Program, said each box has a computer-based key pad, which works with individual emergency medical technicians’ code in order to track what medication, and how much, is taken from the safe. That information may be downloaded for the providers’ patient care report.

“Obviously, if drugs are not accounted for, they’ll find out who went in and what happened to them,” he said.

Jefferson County EMS Director Charles F. Brenon III said this is all a part of a federal law that the state Department of Health has to enforce.

“They’re controlled substances, so there’s potential for abuse, and they can be addictive,” he said. “For years, morphine has been used in treatment of chest pain and heart attacks, but not many agencies could carry it. It has to be stored in a double-lock box or safe.”

The State Emergency Medical Advisory Committee passed a resolution last year that required all advanced life support ambulance and ALS-first responders to be licensed to possess and administer controlled substances. All agencies must apply for, and be granted, that license before May 1, 2015.

Locally, some squads have that license, but thanks to funds from the cooperative, the following eight squads will help meet the new requirement: Black River Ambulance Squad, Brownville ALS First Responders, Cape Vincent Fire/EMS, Carthage Area Rescue Squad, Henderson Fire/EMS, Indian River Ambulance, South Jefferson Rescue Squad and the Town of Watertown Ambulance Service.

“Up until this point we haven’t had narcotics,” said David C. Roof, Watertown president.

Once final paperwork is signed and training of staff is complete, the squad will be on its way to improving patient care, he said. Since the squad doesn’t have narcotics in its ambulances, if one of its paramedics determines a patient needs a controlled substance, he or she must call Jefferson County dispatch and dispatch will send the closest squad that has narcotics. Mr. Roof said after that, the ambulance would proceed with its call.

Having the appropriate drugs aboard, he said, will lessen patient wait time.

Mr. Brenon said the tracking software is key because with narcotics, “there’s no room for error.”

The whole process is being done ahead of the 2015 deadline, he said, because there are “so many wrinkles involved.”

Mr. Roof said he hopes the Watertown ambulance has its program up and running March 1.

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