MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Monongalia County has created a county-wide Quick Response Team (QRT) to help tackle opioid deaths and addiction.
The county currently ranks fifth in opioid deaths in West Virginia and between the months of Jan. and May 2019 the 911 center dispatched emergency medical services (EMS) to treat 46 individuals each month for non-fatal overdoses.
This is according to a press release from the Mon County Health Department that also says the QRT program was funded by a $230,000 grant from the WV Department of Health and Human Resources.
QRT uses eight recovery coaches from the WV Program Enhancing Education, Recovery and Survival (PEERS) who are the ones that go out to see overdose survivors. The coaches go out in teams of two and respond within 72 hours of overdose incidents said Jonathan Dower who is the director of operations for West Virginia Sober Living, the umbrella organization for PEERS.
“I believe in, and I think data supports, the idea that people with lived experience are going to move some barriers from individuals,” Dower said. “Stigma is a big problem with addiction most often people that are in addition feel stigmatized and feel like they are failures in life and the last thing that they’re going to want to do is reach out for help and have that further cemented by that person that they’re reaching out for help from.”
Dower, who himself has been sober for almost eight years, said a lot of the time it’s like doing detective work because they are not provided a name or contact information, just the location of the overdose and that’s where coaches go. They leave behind a card if they cannot find a person.
QRT’s collaboration is extensive and comprises of WV Sober living, that runs PEERS, Monongalia County Health Department, police, EMS, Fire, pharmacy, MAT providers, social services (including Healthrite), and the faith-based community Dower said.
He said it was hard to calculate how many people they serve each week because every week is different depending on how many reports and referrals PEERS receives. Dower said anyone can refer a person with substance use disorder and that they don’t have to wait for an overdose.
“What you don’t see is the ripple effect that occurs within a community, within a family when somebody is affected by substance use disorder many individuals that are their family or collateral in their lives, employers, people in the community are also affected,” Dower said. “So when our recovery coaches through the help of Mon County Health Department and all the community partners come to the table we’re able to surround this person with support we’re not just impacting that person struggling with alcoholism or addiction we’re helping their families, their friends, their employers by having somebody get healthy and well.”
Moving forward Dower said he hopes that they will continue to receive funding because there is still more work to do. He said one of the new initiatives they hope to undertake would be working with the legal system.
“The rates of overdose exponentially increase when somebody is released from incarceration that first couple of weeks to a month period the rate overdose deaths is way beyond that of the general population,” Dower said. “So we would like to interface with community correction, probation, parole, drug courts in an effort to fill that huge gap in services from when they leave to when they reintegrate into their community.”
Dower said the program also has to look beyond initial treatment and services and think longterm. He said for the recovery process to be sustainable people need gainful employment, housing and a lot more than substance use disorder services.
Therefore, he said the plan is to continue working collaboratively with all their community partners and agencies to help those that they need their services.