A new article* published in Prehospital Emergency Care Â (on-line April 8, 2016), concludes that Basic EMTs can safely give subcutaneous Fentanyl for acute pain in the prehospital setting.
BLS EMTs in Canada received a four hour training course, and then were permitted to administer a maximum first dose of Fentanyl 1.5 mcg/kg for patients between 14 and 70 who had a pain scale of 7 or greater. Â Patients over 70 could receive a maximum first dose of 50 mcgs. Â Both the EMT and the patient had to agree that pain medicine would be given and the EMT Â had to obtain permission from the on-line medical control MD prior to administration.
In the study, Â 284 patients recieved Subcutaneous Fentanyl. Â Pain scales decreased significantly and there were no major side effects. Â 42.9 % of patients had relief of greater than 3 points. Â 38.6% of the patients received the Fentanyl for pain caused by trauma, 28.1% for abdominal pain, and 19.3% for back and neck pain.
The study interests me for two reasons.
First, I am intriqued by the choice of the subcutaneous route for Fentanyl. Â We can give it intravenously (IV), intramuscularly (IM) or intranasally (IN). Â I have mainly given it either IV or IN. Â I have only given it IM a time or two. Â I prefer the IV route as the bioavailability is 100%, and it provides quick, effective pain relief. Â The one drawback is occasionally if I push it a little too fast, it can make the patient nauseous. Â I have observed very little Fentanyl-induced hypotension in my patients, and when I do, it is always transient. Â I do IN in mostÂ children and when I canâ€™t get an IV. Â While sometimes IN works great, other times, the patient finds it very unpleasant. Â Some of the drug actually ends up in the back of the throat, and sometimes if I don’t push briskly enough, it doesnâ€™t completely atomize and I see it run out of the nose.
As far as IM versus SQ, perhaps SQ because the absorption should be slower may cause less side effects than IM? Â It is certainly a possibility. Â Â Â I have never made anyone nauseous with IN Fentanyl. Â Perhaps the same might be true with SQ, with the added benefit of greater bioavailability. Â I would still use IN Fentanyl for kids with a fear of a needle.
MyÂ second interest is the BLS use of a narcotic. Â I am all for this because I donâ€™t think it requires great assessment skills to tell if someone with a broken leg is in pain. Â The medical control caveat and a limit in the amount increases its safety.
One important caveat to note here is that the Canadian EMT-B is more advanced than the American EMT-B, so it may not directly relate to our EMTs, but I think it is still a conversation starter.
All the studies to date show we do a pretty poor job of prehospital analgesia. Â The reasons for this can range from onerous narcotic usage /exchange policies to provider laziness toÂ lack of education about the benefits of pain management to lack of paramedic responding to the call. Â I think the latter is the chief reason. Â For tiered systems, ALS is often not dispatched to calls for low falls, which are a likely source for fractures, particularlyÂ Â hip fractures.
At my EMSÂ coordinator hospital job, I have kept track of hip fractures and pain management for several years, and I can tell you that the makeup of a townâ€™s EMSÂ system has a huge impact on whether or not elderly with hip fractures get prehospital pain medicine. Â In one of the wealthiest towns in our state, a few years ago not a single one of 34 patients with a hip fracture received analgesia because every low fall response generated a BLS only crew. Â We have been pushing pain management and both encouraging BLS to call for pain management and ALS to not make BLS feel badlyÂ for calling for it. Â This has improved the number of people getting analgesia, but in towns with tiered response, the analgesia rate is far lower than towns where a medic is on every ambulance. Â Our best town has a 70% analgesia rate versus 20% in the tiered town I mentioned that uses fly car medics and BLS ambulances.
I believe that ALS and BLS should not be divided along the lines of invasive intervention and medication, but only along the lines of what can they do safely will proven benefit to the patient. Â Defibrillation, epi-pen, CPAP, Narcan, and (I now add) Fentanyl SQ (with medical control approval), should be provided by BLS crews who have had the appropriate training, and medical oversight. Â This will benefit our patients and improve our EMS systems.