- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

D.C. paramedics are the only such specialists in the area who don’t have access to basic medications like Valium and morphine, which have been stocked on ambulances in most other jurisdictions for decades.

“Nobody here can remember not having those drugs,” said paramedic Chauncey Bowers, spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department.

Mr. Bowers said the drugs have been a part of the ambulance service for at least 25 years.

The Washington Times on Monday reported D.C. paramedics saying their ambulances have not been stocked with basic medications even though they have been trained in administering the drugs for nearly a year.

Paramedics across the country are saying the District’s delay in stocking the drugs on ambulances has reduced the quality of care, though no official reports have attributed any deaths directly to the ambulances’ lack of medications.

“The systems that I have been around and been a part of have carried them since the 1970s,” said Jerry Johnston, medical director for the Henry County Health Center in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and treasurer of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. “I think they’re a staple.”

Montgomery County is among most Maryland counties that have carried Valium and morphine for at least 25 years, said Mike McAdams, district chief for the county’s emergency medical services.

Paramedics in Montgomery County also carry all of the advanced cardiac-life-support medication approved by the American Heart Association.

In Fairfax County, ambulances have been equipped with an array of drugs, including morphine, Demerol and Valium, for at least 20 years, said Capt. Christine Woodard of the county’s Emergency Medical Services Administration.

“We carry 20-plus drugs,” Capt. Woodard said.

D.C. paramedics have been trained to use medications that include drugs to sedate patients, break epileptic seizures, treat asthma attacks and emphysema, and to slow rapid heart rates.

Valium is also one of a trio of drugs used to treat people suffering from exposure to chemical nerve agents. The other two — atropine and 2-PAM — are stocked on D.C. ambulances.

Dr. Fernando Daniels III, the D.C. Fire and EMS Department’s medical director, defended the delay in stocking the drugs by saying some medications have been ordered or are already in storage and that paramedics still need more training in accounting for and storing drugs in fire stations and ambulances.

He acknowledged that the D.C. Council approved the administration of the drugs in September 2002, but said it was too late for procurement costs to be included in last year’s budget.

Dr. Daniels said the fire department has $1.2 million from the fiscal 2004 budget to buy medications and other life-saving technology that should be arriving in the city between now and February.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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