FAIRMONT — Marion County now has an additional tool to use in the fight on opioid addiction and drug overdosing.
A $225,000 grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is funding the establishment of a team of professionals who will accompany first responders when they are called out on a drug overdose case.
“We would be notified if there was a drug overdose and would make contact with that person, usually within 24 hours,” said Lloyd White, administrator of the Marion County Health Department. “The first goal is to prevent a second overdose, which obviously if you can prevent the overdose, you can prevent the death.”
Marion County’s Quick Response Team is now one of 22 such teams in West Virginia that will be using proven practices first put in place in December 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia to handle overdose-related deaths there.
“Our overdose rate per capita led the nation,” said Connie Priddy, coordinator for the Huntington Quick Response Team. “Between 2017 and 2018, we had a 40 percent reduction in overdose ambulance calls. In ‘19, they continued to drop further.”
When Huntington first adopted a QRT, it wasn’t an assured method of cutting down on deaths in the community, and had not been implemented anywhere in West Virginia. But Priddy, who had worked as a nurse for several years prior, said learning about the actions a QRT performs led her to want to give it a try in Cabell County.
“We found the Quick Response Team model, which is utilizing first responders to go out and make visits after an overdose event,” Priddy said. “We ended up with two federal grants, and we made our first visit in December of 2017.”
Cabell County’s QRT is now certified as a national model for the program by the U.S. Department of Justice, and Priddy often speaks across the state as a QRT advocate. The program is also supported by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
“To me it’s a phenomenal concept because people who overdose, that’s a life-changing incident,” said Bob Hansen, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy. “If you reach out and support them, a lot of them are ready to get into treatment. And that’s what the quick response teams do, is be that bridge between continuing to use drugs and helping them to get into appropriate treatment.”
According to Hansen, the grant money is meant to pay for staff members of a QRT, who typically are members of a local EMS department, police department or other community action groups, such as the Marion County Family Resource Network, which is part of the new local QRT.
“It’s pretty extensive because you need people who want to do this type of work, and it’s over and above a regular job, so each team is a little different,” Hansen said.
Priddy said Cabell County’s team has a member from Cabell County EMS, who serves as the QRT’s contact for overdose cases.
“We used Cabell County EMS sort of as the lead agency here, and we were able to utilize their data so we know who to go see,” Priddy said. “What we’ve got is a four-man team. Any given day, Monday through Friday, they actually go out and visit individuals.”
Hansen said any potential solution to overdose deaths is not a one size fits all solution, and would likely involve many facets of a community to implement. He said one goal of having a community QRT is to create an environment where people facing addiction can get help.
“The issue is so complex, so there has to be multiple strategies,” Hansen said. “One is working on preventing people from becoming addicted to opioids and other drugs like methamphetamines, so prevention takes a key role.”
White said Marion County sees a moderate number of overdoses, which is still an amount he hopes to drop. By implementing a QRT, he said he hopes to keep those who survive an overdose from relapsing.
“If it’s an overdose that doesn’t involve death, those usually aren’t publicized as much,” White said. “It’s fairly high — a lot higher than I’d like — so that’s why we applied for the grant to hopefully decrease the risk of overdose which would decrease the risk of death.”
Although the grant does not pay for treatment options, White said members of a QRT could help get individuals get into treatment when necessary, which could evolve into a more robust system in the future.
“The ultimate goal is to have these folks complete treatment and reenter society as a drug-free individual,” White said. “This grant does not cover funding for treatment itself, so basically it’s a linkage to care-type grant that once we get linkage to care, we can consider ideas on how to pay for it in the future.”
Hansen also said it is important for those who overdose to get treatment right away, because they may not get another opportunity to get help before they overdose again.
“Really having accessible treatment and recovery services for individuals who are ready to enter and complete treatment definitely works,” Hansen said. “Many people are in recovery and then as people get stable, it’s helping them find stable employment and better housing.”
In its brief three years, Huntington’s QRT has evolved. Priddy said she and her team members have learned how to speak to individuals experiencing addiction in a way that supports them pursuing help rather than forcing them.
“Instead of, ‘Hey, I’m here to talk to you,’ it’s ‘Hey, can I offer you a sandwich?’” Priddy said. “Then we sit down and make sort of that personal contact with them and talk to them.”
Priddy said the QRT has changed the landscape of Huntington. She no longer hears negative words about overdose victims because the culture of the city has changed.
“Being a part of this has really transformed me, transformed the team,” Priddy said. “We have drawn the medical crews in, given them education and you don’t hear the stigma talk anymore. You don’t hear the derogatory terms. They have bought into this.”