Clark County Testing New Coordinated Approach To Opioid Overdose Epidemic

Nov 20, 2017

Staff at the nonprofit Springfield addiction-treatment agency McKinley​ ​Hall are participating in a new approach to opioid overdose.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

Clark County has seen a record number of overdose deaths this year. But widespread use of the antidote ​Narcan is also allowing many people who overdose to survive and use again, increasing their risk of dying the next time.

To help curb overdose deaths, mental health advocates, county first responders and addiction specialists are collaborating on a new approach aimed at quickly connecting these high-risk addicts to treatment.

​The​ ​typical​ ​approach​ ​to​ ​an​ ​overdose​ is for first​ ​responders​​ ​to​ ​administer the overdose-reversal drug​ ​Narcan, the brand name of the medication naloxone,​ ​until​ ​the​ victim ​has​ ​revived.​

Springfield Fire Department
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

At Springfield fire department headquarters, Fire​ ​Chief​ ​Nick​ ​Heimlich says sometimes​ ​it​ ​takes as many as eight ​doses​ ​of​ the overdose-blocker ​to​ resuscitate ​a​ ​single​ ​victim.

And, when they wake up, ​many people resist further treatment.

“They’re anxious, they want to get away, they don’t want to talk to anybody," he says, "and what we have effectively done is move the clock forward to their next need for the drug because their body now is going through withdrawal. And withdrawal means I’m sick, and the only way I’m not sick is if I use.”

​Heimlich says many Springfield medical ​crews​ are growing ​frustrated​ ​by how​ ​rapidly​ some overdose​ victims begin using drugs again.

“They are checking out of the hospital emergency department against medical advice, before we’re even restocked and are back in our ambulances and on the street. There’s nothing to catch them, right?”

So,​ ​to​ ​fix​ ​this​ ​problem,​ Clark County first responders are testing a new method called the ​Warm​ ​Hand-Off​ ​program​.

Naloxone, also known by its brand name of Narcan, can reverse the effects of opioid overdose.
Credit Springfield Fire Rescue Division

Here’s how it works: in an overdose situation, EMT’s​ ​and​ ​paramedics administer​ ​less​ ​Narcan.​ ​This​ ​method is designed to slow ​down​ ​the​ ​time​ ​it​ ​takes​ ​for​ ​the​ victim ​to​ wake up. And that gives ​hospital staff more​ ​time​ ​to​ ​contact​ ​a​ ​mental health counselor.

Officials say the hope is to link addicts who survive an overdose with recovery services even before they can leave the hospital.

“And then this therapist and peer support specialist go in and say ‘hey, we care about you, we’re worried, we know you just overdosed, and this is a plan,“ says Wendy​ ​Doolittle, ​CEO​ ​of​ the nonprofit Springfield addiction treatment agency McKinley​ ​Hall.

She​ says ​$26​ ​billion​ ​in​ ​federal​ ​opioid epidemic funding is helping to pay for two additional on-call counselors for the program. Doolittle says overdose victims who agree to enter drug treatment are able to get into programs right away. ​

“When you’re released we’re gonna take you to our safehouse that’s staffed 24/7, and we’re gonna find you a residential bed, and we’re gonna keep you on medicine that will help you stabilize and enter into your recovery,” she says. 

Wendy​ ​Doolittle is ​CEO​ ​of​ the nonprofit Springfield addiction treatment agency McKinley​ ​Hall.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

Chief​ ​Heimlich​ says he hopes this new approach will help the city address some of the root causes of the overdose death rate.

“The solution isn’t to go to the citizens and ask for more paramedics and more Narcan to treat more addicts. That’s not the solution. That’s just managing the process. The solution is to slow and then cut off the pipeline,” he says. 

The​ ​Warm​ ​Hand-Off​ ​program​ launched  ​September 1, 2017. Officials say it’s too soon to know for sure whether the program will have a lasting impact on Clark County’s severe overdose epidemic.