New Jersey EMTs Now Allowed To Offer Suboxone After Overdose

By Kelly Burch 07/02/19

New Jersey’s health commissioner said that getting people Suboxone as soon as possible could change the course of treatment at a critical moment. 

EMT making a call about Suboxone

The rising prevalence of naloxone has contributed to the first decrease in overdose deaths in decades, and now health officials in New Jersey are hoping to use medications to take an even bigger chunk out of the overdose death rate, by administering buprenorphine to patients almost immediately after an overdose.  

The Initiative Is The First Of Its Kind In The U.S.

The New Jersey initiative, announced in June, will allow EMTs to administer buprenorphine (also known as Suboxone) to patients who have been treated for an overdose. This could reduce their feelings of withdrawal and give them a greater chance of connecting with long-term treatment. 

“This comes out of left field, and it’s very interesting,” University of California, San Francisco professor, Dr. Dan Ciccarone, told STAT News. “It’s a potentially brilliant idea.”

Doctors need a special waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, but under the New Jersey initiative EMTs would be able to give a dose with permission from the emergency room doctors that they work under, as long as those doctors hold the waiver.

EMTs Can Give A Dose Of Suboxone With Permission From ER Doctors

Then, a patient could be connected with a doctor who can prescribe the treatment long-term and help connect the patient with over recovery supports. Ciccarone said that removing the initial barrier to buprenorphine could become the standard of care. 

“Here we are basically suggesting that we’re going to treat the person in as well-meaning and patient-centric a manner as possible,” he said. “And that means naloxone plus a softer landing with buprenorphine.”

Shereef Elnahal, New Jersey’s health commissioner, said that getting people buprenorphine as soon as possible could change the course of treatment at a critical moment. 

“We had a lot of paramedics telling us that someone would be in an ambulance, knocked out, and then receive naloxone, and they would run out of the ambulance,” Elnahal told The Atlantic. Giving buprenorphine after naloxone could reduce withdrawal and make people more receptive to care. 

“Buprenorphine is a critical medication that doesn’t just bring folks into recovery—it can also dampen the devastating effects of opioid withdrawal,” Elnahal said in a statement. “That’s why equipping our EMS professionals with this drug is so important.”

James Langabeer, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said the program has promise, but will also require EMTs to integrate new decision-making protocols around medication-assisted treatment. He added that the initiative will only really make a difference if overdose victims are connected with long-term care. 

“It’s a really positive first step—but the next step is the next day,” he said. “They’ve got to be linked to continuing treatment.”

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