Can Emergency Responders in Your Town Administer Glucagon?
Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are the most common responders sent in an emergency when you call 911. Next are the paramedics—who make up about 25 percent of responders. This is a problem for people with diabetes in emergencies because basic-level EMT certification does not enable responders to administer glucagon—an emergency medicine used to treat severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Severe diabetes complications can result from untreated or delayed treatment of hypoglycemia—there is an increased risk of comatose, brain damage and even death. While the thought of this is alarming, you can take steps to ensure the right medical personnel is sent to you in an emergency.
Here’s what you should know about emergency responder certification levels and how to contact your local emergency medical services (EMS) agency to teach them about today’s modern 1-step glucagon medications.
Emergency responder skills + abilities
Different types of emergency medical responders have different skill sets and certifications. These are the types of responders that exist in the U.S. today and how they can help in an emergency:
- EMT (emergency medical technician): Cannot administer glucagon
- AEMT (advanced EMT training level): Can administer glucagon
- Paramedic: Can administer glucagon*
Crazy as it may seem, EMTs aren’t even allowed to check blood sugar levels in some states!
*Learn more about these emergency service roles.
How to get information from your state EMS agency
One way to verify whether EMTs in your area can administer glucagon is to contact your state EMS agency or visit your state EMS website. Depending on the size of your town, you may have very few paramedics or AEMTs on staff. Calling 911 may mean making sure they send the right emergency responder who can actually treat severe hypoglycemia.
When you visit your state website, you may find a “Scope of Practice and Protocols” webpage with resources that tell you what tools EMTs in your area are licensed to do in an emergency or a regional phone number you can call.
If your state website does not have a webpage like this or you have more questions after visiting your state website, calling your state EMS agency is the next best step. Connecting with a representative will likely give you the most straightforward answers and information on how you can help ensure you will be treated safely and effectively.
When you call your state EMS agency, be sure to ask the following questions:
- “If I were in an emergency, who would be sent to me—an AEMT, paramedic, EMT or EMR?”
- “Is there a way I can get on a local list to ensure that the proper emergency personnel is sent to me in a diabetes emergency—for example, someone certified to administer glucagon or check my blood glucose levels in an emergency?”
- “Can I send you some resources to pass along to your team and consider implementing in regional EMT training?”
Emergency medicine hasn’t caught up with modern glucagon treatment
Many emergency agencies do not know about these modern one-step glucagon treatments! The reason EMTs and EMRs are not allowed to administer glucagon is that the protocol is based on the older multi-step glucagon emergency kit (GEK).
With many one-step glucagon treatments that mimic other emergency treatments—like Narcan and epinephrine—these protocols should be updated to empower all emergency responders with the ability to administer glucagon.
The bottom line: get proactive about emergency care
Calling your state EMS agency may answer many questions or, unfortunately, leave you with more. Enacting state laws and revising emergency responder protocols takes time.
This stresses the importance of wearing medical IDs and updating emergency contacts in your phone. Emergency responders are trained to look for medical IDs, but many cannot value tattoos as identification because they can be memorial tattoos. If you cannot advocate for yourself in an emergency, these methods and devices can help ensure you are properly cared for.
It’s important to remember that emergency situations can still happen even when you have a good handle on your diabetes. Emergencies are often random and unprecedented! Knowing who is coming to you in a low blood sugar emergency can save your life, especially if you or a family member cannot administer glucagon before an ambulance arrives.
Editor’s Note: Educational content related to emergency glucagon is made possible with support from Lilly, an active partner of Beyond Type 2 at the time of publication. Editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 2.