San Diego

San Diego County Ambulances to Carry Fentanyl for Pain Relief

The synthetic drug at the center of the nation’s opioid crisis, fentanyl, will be carried on all San Diego County ambulances starting in July, county officials said.

San Diego County will use fentanyl on ambulances as a replacement pain reliever for morphine, which is in low supply due to a national drug shortage that was exacerbated, in part, when a devastating hurricane struck Puerto Rico in September 2017. The territory is a source of medical drug and device manufacturing. 

"Our movement to use fentanyl to treat people who have pain is part of an overall strategy of immediate, short-term and long-term interventions to combat this national shortage," said Kristi Koenig, Emergency Medical Services Directo for San Diego County.

Using a deadly drug that is contributing to a rising number of overdoses across the country may seem worrisome, but Koenig said the drug will be highly regulated to ensure it is administered properly. 

"We account for every single microgram of fentanyl that we give so we know exactly how much somebody is getting; we don’t give a whole vial. We actually have two people watching to make sure the extra is wasted. We have people who go out into the field and do audits and we look for any type of discrepancies," Koenig said.

"When fentanyl is used safely and effectively it's very good at controlling pain and it's important to have that as an option."

Fentanyl is a powerful anesthetic, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In its illegal form, fentanyl is so potent a size equal to two grains of salt can be deadly. 

Koenig said each ambulance will only carry small doses and they will be locked up to ensure the safety of emergency personnel. 

"It’s always a concern to have safety for our crews and that’s why controlled substances are always well monitored and locked up and there is only a minimal amount that each crew would be carrying," Koenig said. 

Some ambulances have already begun to carry the drug. By July 1, every ambulance in San Diego County will have fentanyl available as a treatment option. 

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