ESCMP hosts briefing on CHEMPACK program

The Emergency Services Coalition for Medical Preparedness, a group that represents more than three million emergency services providers, hosted an educational briefing on Thursday about the CHEMPACK program.

The CHEMPACK program is an ongoing initiative by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Strategic National Stockpile that provides antidotes to nerve agents throughout the U.S. The briefing, which took place at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC, centered on chemical weapons threats and teaching the Senate and House staff more about the program.

Amy Smithson, a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, discussed the chemical weapons threats facing the U.S. and the world at large, including sarin gas and nerve agents. CHEMPACKs include antidotes to such threats and can be found in more than 1,800 fire houses and hospitals in 62 public health preparedness project areas.

Mike Robbins, a pharmacist with the city of Chicago's CHEMPACK team, discussed how CHEMPACKs were distributed through the state of Illinois. He said hospitals without CHEMPACKs are required to know where the closest CHEMPACK hospital is, in case the antidotes are needed. One CHEMPACK is able to provide symptomatic relief for up to 1,000 mild or moderately exposed victims of a nerve agent attack.

Robbins suggested the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could save money on the program by relying more on local pharmacists to re-supply the CHEMPACK drugs, which expire approximately every four years.

To conclude the panel, Don Hiett, a representative of the International Association of Emergency Services Chiefs, and John Sinclair, a representative of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the CDC and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, went over recommended policy changes for CHEMPACK, including emphasizing local management, using funds to update the CHEMPACK with new antidotes, simplifying shelf-life management and funding pilot projects for CHEMPACK's next generation.

"(We need to) re-imagine the CHEMPACK program, which has not seen significant changes in ten years," Hiett and Sinclair said. "The (terrorist attack) threat is real (and we need) gaps need to be filled at the local levels."

The ESCMP coalition seeks to protect emergency responders against biological, chemical and radiological events.