New program seeks to reach Clark County overdose patients, save lives

6:00 a.m. Monday, April 24, 2017 Community News

A new program set to launch next month will allow overdose patients to receive immediate help from a mental health professional at the emergency room, which local health leaders say could save lives.

The warm hand-off program will place a licensed chemical dependency therapist and a peer support recovery specialist at the emergency room at Springfield Regional Medical Center to speak with addicts about treatment options.

RELATED: Safe houses for Springfield overdose patients might save lives

“If you can catch the individuals while they’re in crisis, it increases your chances of getting them into addiction treatment services,” McKinley Hall CEO Wendy Doolittle said.

The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties voted unanimously last week to fund a $12,000 pilot program over the next two months, Chief Executive Officer Greta Mayer said.

Doolittle recently applied for a $168,000 federal grant for the project but she said it likely won’t be awarded until September.

“Our board decided, ‘Let’s not wait,’” Mayer said.

The board will consider adding more funding for the program into the allocation given to McKinley Hall next year. Last year, McKinley Hall received about $1.7 million in funding from the recovery board.

The warm hand-off approach is a first step toward more solutions, Mayer said.

The program will allow the community to make some headway, she said. It will be most effective when teamed with a with a safe house, Doolittle said.

The recovery board will also consider funding a safe house for addicts who overdose and don’t want to return to their same environment. That pilot project would cost about $180,000 to get off the ground for one year, Doolittle said.

Addicts can detox at the hospital, she said, but it’s not ideal because it may allow visitors.

“You really want to serve this population in an environment that’s specific to what they’re dealing with,” Doolittle said. “You want to limit visitors and things like that.”

MORE: Clark County hit by onslaught of overdoses: 3 things to know about deepening opioid crisis

The board is looking to partner with other private organizations to raise money for the safe house project to make it sustainable, Mayer said.

“We want to do this long-term and really reduce the impact of the crisis,” she said. “We need to be open to new partnerships we haven’t had in the past.”

Clark County has seen more than 500 overdoses this year. After a record 79 drug deaths in the county last year, this year has already seen more than 40 suspected fatal overdoses — many of which involve illicit fentanyl that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin.

The idea stemmed from the Clark County Substance Abuse Coalition, which is analyzing gaps and creative solutions for the heroin and fentanyl epidemic, Mayer said.

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The coalition noticed people who overdose are revived by first responders, taken to the ER and are later leave the hospital against medical advice, Mayer said.

“The hospital is struggling with that, first responders are struggling with that and the treatment agencies are struggling with that because the victims and their families are never getting plugged into treatment,” she said.

McKinley Hall currently has two peer recovery support specialists who visit overdose patients a few weeks after an incident has occurred, Mayer said. About 30 percent of the people they’re able to reach will enter treatment, she said.

“The community identified we need to get there quicker,” Mayer said.

Local public safety agenices and the hospital have been supportive of the initiative, she said.

MORE: Springfield man allegedly ODs with 9-year-old child at home

“It’s seen as something that’s going to fill this gap,” Mayer said. “It hopefully will get those individuals more engaged in treatment more quickly and hopefully reduce the risk of death.”

The program will be staffed from 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, which Doolittle says is the time the most overdoses occur, according to the Springfield Police Division. If successful, it’s possible a first shift could be added, Doolittle said.

Clark County has had large spikes in overdoses this month. Between April 3 and April 7, the Springfield Regional Medical Center treated at least 40 overdose patients, according to the hospital. Last week, Springfield police responded to 19 overdoses in 25 hours between April 13 and 14. The onslaught continued with another wave of 20 overdoses between April 14 and 15.

Nearly 500 people have died of drug overdoses in Clark County since 1998, according to coroner’s office records. More than half of those people — 265 — died in the past five years, the result of the opioid epidemic.

The trauma of each victim is felt across the community, Mayer said, including by first responders, ER staff, families, neighbors and co-workers.

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“It’s mission critical,” she said. “Everyone is thinking: ‘What can we do? How can we be a part of the solution?’”

The new program will also provide hope to first responders and ER employees that addicts can receive help, Doolittle said.

“They’ll have someone to hand them off to and know the process is going to continue and not stop at the point of the ER,” she said. “It will also give them some hope if we’re able reconnect some of these folks with the first responders who have saved their lives.”

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