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Sarasota County Turns from Opioids To Nitrous Oxide To Alleviate Pain

Paramedics in Sarasota County are turning away from opioids to treat patients in pain.

Instead, they will primarily use nitrous oxide also known as laughing gas.

Officials say there are various reasons to use nitrous oxide. There is a drug shortage across the country and nitrous has recently become more affordable and easier to transport. Most importantly, the county wants to reduce the use of opioids and narcotics. 

“For many years our go-to drug for pain management has always been a narcotic or an opioid, so we started to look at what are some other alternatives to ways that we can alleviate pain for the transport to the hospital,” said Carson Sanders, Chief of the Emergency Service Division in Sarasota.

According to Sanders, nitrous can help prevent opioid addiction. He explains that not only can one dose of an opioid make someone addicted, but it’s also critical to not reintroduce narcotics to a recovering addict.

To use the nitrous oxide, patients simply hold the mask up themselves and decide how much gas to take in for their level of pain.

“The benefit is that in 3 to 5 minutes as that starts to wear off, they can come back to full consciousness and that way when they're talking to the doctor, he or she can actually bring that patient all the way back to where they know exactly how much pain they're in and if they're making improvements,” said Sanders.

Nitrous Oxide is not a long term pain reliever, but a short term alleviation while transporting patients to the hospital.

Although paramedics in Sarasota County are using nitrous as their frontline drug, they aren’t doing away with opioids entirely.

There are certain injuries such as major trauma from a car accident that would still require them to use opioids for pain.

Sanders says that there are not any side effects, but things like recent eye surgery or being later in a trimester during a pregnancy can prevent them from using the gas.

So far, they’ve been able to use the gas to help patients with sprains and broken bones.

“Where you really see the benefit of it is especially with the elderly patients because we do have an older population in Sarasota,” said Sanders. “For hip fractures and pelvic fractures, where someone falls and they can't get up, that's a very painful injury especially to move them to get them into the rescue and then to the hospital, so we can give them the nitrous since it's portable.”

Nitrous is a drug that dentists already use and although it has become more affordable, it is still not cheaper than narcotics.

“We feel that with this nitrous, we’re ahead of what’s probably going to be a large surge of departments around the state and around the country using this in the field,” said Sanders.

Nitrous Oxide is now portable and easy for paramedics to use in the field.
Courtesy of the Sarasota County Fire Department / WUSF Public Media
The Florida Channel
Nitrous Oxide is now portable and easy for paramedics to use in the field.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Eillin Delapaz is a WUSF radio intern for the fall 2018 semester.