MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia County Health Department created its Quick Response Team (QRT) to help combat the opioid crisis in the county.
Their team consists of counselors who try to locate those who have suffered an overdose within 72 hours of that overdose. In addition, it comprises of law enforcement and health care professionals like pharmacist Michael LeMasters who is the team leader at Pierpont Landing Pharmacy.
LeMasters said he connected to QRT through his work with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department because his team had been partnering with them, since they opened in 2010, for National Drug Take-Back Day.
“They felt that with the work I’ve been doing in battling addiction that I would be a good asset to be part of that team,” LeMasters said. “I went to the first meeting, fell in love with the project, with what they were doing and I felt like I had some more to offer to the team.”
Now as a member of the team, he said he offers his team at the pharmacy and they bring in knowledge from the pharmaceutical side of things. LeMasters’ team provides information on medication that can help with treatment, informs the others about the availability or lack thereof of certain treatments.
He said the team is constantly looking for answers as to where they can go and how they can find medications that they may be helpful to patients. One of the medications his team has taught QRT about, LeMasters said, was naloxone, which can help reverse the effects of an overdose and save a person’s life.
“We’ve taught the team a lot about the accessibility of naloxone to the general public, the procedures for how to do that, that basically anyone anywhere can walk into a pharmacy, using the state medical director’s standing order to obtain naloxone for a friend, family member, personal use or whatever,” LeMasters said.
LeMasters said naloxone should be treated like epinephrine, which is used when someone is having an allergic reaction. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and stereotypes around the subject of addiction, which LeMasters said is a disease.
There is a lot of stigma around medication-assisted treatment as well, he said. Medication-assisted treatment is when a patient is given drugs like methadone, which helps dull the craving for opioids. He said many people think patients are simply replacing one addiction with another when in fact a medication-assisted treatment program is designed to use medication along with behavior therapy and modification to help an individual recover.
It is much like a patient that is diagnosed with diabetes, he said, you wouldn’t just give them medicine and send them on their way, you would provide medication and education to help manage that disease state. Anyone can be affected by addiction LeMasters said and that is what he wants the public to know.
“My hope for being a part of the QRT and what I hope to accomplish–number one is to help the community understand the disease of addiction and substance use disorder, mainly opioid use disorder and to reduce the stigma associated around the disease,” LeMasters said.
There’s a lot of work to be done to tackle substance use in Monongalia County, statewide and around the country, but LeMasters thinks there’s a lot of impact that can be made on an individual and small scale level. He said there is a quote he lives by to remind him of that.
“‘To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be their entire world’,” LeMasters said. “Never miss the chance as a healthcare provider, a member of law enforcement, a friend, a neighbor–if you identify someone in need, never miss a chance to miss a difference, never miss a chance to just stop and simply say ‘hello how’re you, what can I do for you today’. That simple comment may be the best thing that happens to that person all day and starting that conversation could save someone’s life.”
LeMasters said he plans on opening a new pharmacy, in 2020, in Bridgeport to bring his hands-on and compassion style of treatment to a new community.