Connecticut EMTs Team Up With Poison Control To Track Overdoses

By Kelly Burch 08/13/19

In May, the system helped detectives identify risk factors in a spate of 11 overdoses in two days.

Connecticut EMT talking to a police officer
ID 29651498 © Photographerlondon |

In Connecticut, emergency medical personnel are teaming up with poison control to track every overdose in the state in hopes of combatting overdose deaths. 

The idea started with Peter Canning, who has been a paramedic since 1995. When he first started working in emergency response, he witnessed the occasional overdose. 

“I responded to opioid overdoses, but I didn't think anymore of them than I did the shootings or car accidents. It was part of the job,” he told WSHU

Where It Began

However, five years ago he started responding to more overdoses than any other kind of emergency. He started collecting information that he hoped would help him understand the trend. 

“I started just writing down the overdoses I did, how old the people were, their gender, how they got started, and then the heroin bags,” he said. “I would write whether or not I saw heroin bags there. And I thought if I was keeping this information, which is really interesting, what if everybody was keeping this information?”

A few years later Canning discussed his project with the director of the state’s poison control center, who thought his department could be a partner for Canning. 

“He said, ‘You know poison control, we have operators there 24/7 and this is right up our alley!’” Canning recalled. 

A pilot program in Hartford showed that the program had great promise, so this year Connecticut’s Department of Public Health secured federal funding to take the program statewide. 

Tracking Outcomes

Now, EMTs are required to report information about all suspected overdoses to poison control as part of the Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive (SWORD). The calls take about three minutes as the poison control specialist asks the EMTs 10 questions. After the overdose, the information can be used to track outcomes as someone goes to the hospital. 

“So when they get transported to an emergency room we follow up for data regarding that to help trend it,” said Lori Salinger, a poison control specialist in the state. 

In May, the system helped Canning and other detectives identify risk factors in a spate of 11 overdoses in two days. He was able to alert Mark Jenkins of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, who sent out teams with testing kits to help users detect heroin with fentanyl. 

Jenkins said that initiatives like this can save lives. 

“When we get information like this it’s a heads up to say watch out for this particular bag, make sure you don't use alone,” Jenkins said. “If you do use together, don’t use at the same time.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.