Changemakers: When communities care, heroin loses

COLERAIN TOWNSHIP – As communities scramble to battle the heroin epidemic, one Greater Cincinnati suburb is experiencing eye-opening results.

More than a year ago, officials in Colerain Township launched the Quick Response Team to tackle the rapid rise of heroin overdoses and deaths occurring across the suburb of about 60,000 residents.

The success has been so significant, Hamilton County announced it would launch its own heroin response team, modeled after Colerain's.

"Colerain has seen significant success. Overdoses are down by 35 percent since this team was launched," said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a member of the Hamilton County Heroin Task Force. "The decreases they've seen -- it's a shining star in all of this."

One day each week a Colerain police officer, paramedic and a counselor from the Addiction Services Council comb through reports of ambulance runs and police calls to uncover the names of residents who have overdosed in the last week.

“Then we go out and start working to find these folks,” said Daniel Meloy, the township’s public safety director. “We’ve learned that if we can get to someone who has overdosed within the last three to five days, that’s when we’re most likely to find a willing person ready to consider recovery.”

When the team arrives at a home, Meloy says they’re armed with open hearts and compassion.

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“We tell them we’re just here to help if they want it,” he said. “We want to be that bridge that allows you to get the help you need.”

The team’s visits can last minutes to hours, and always include handing over a resource recovery packet – a pamphlet packed phone numbers for drug addiction treatment services and other help lines.

“We are trying to give people hope and a reason to think that they can beat this thing – this disease,” Meloy said.

The team’s work appears to be making a big impact. Results from the last year’s work include:

  • More than 80 percent of the 160 residents who were visited by the team have made their way into treatment.
  • Overdoses across Colerain have fallen 36 percent so far this year compared to same period last year.
  • In the first six months of this year 16 people in Colerain were taken to an emergency room because of cardiac arrest due to an overdose, compared to 26 in the same period of 2015.

In many cases, the team’s work goes beyond finding treatment options, Meloy said. Often the residents don’t have insurance, Medicaid, or even an ID card -- all items that the team helps line up so residents can enter inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. For individuals who choose treatment, the team continues to follow up with them.

“You have to care enough to make a difference, and this is having a real impact,” Meloy said. 

‘One person at a time’

The program has been so successful that communities across the region and elsewhere have begun craft similar efforts.

“It really is about taking one person at a time and letting them know that all we care about is getting them the help they need,” said Norwood Lt. Tom Fallon.

Since July, Fallon has been part of a response team in his city of 20,000 that also includes a paramedic, city health nurse and a member of the Addiction Services Council.

“When we show up, we let them know we don’t care about where they’re getting the dope, all we want to do is get them help,” he said.

The program’s team approach of combining law enforcement, health care professionals and addiction specialists is an unprecedented strategy to tackling the heroin scourge, said Mike Samat of Hamilton County Public Health.

“The bottom line is, we cannot incarcerate our way out of this epidemic,” Samat said. “ The more we can steer people into treatment, the more we are going to be able keep them returning to using. We have got to steer our resources toward treatment, because filling up our jails is not working.”

More resource, bigger impact

But even with the successes, challenges remain.

The recent scourge of more than 60 overdoses in just two days underscores the need and demand for services like the Quick Response Team, Meloy said.

“There is enough demand for this team to work five days a week,” he said. “I wish there was grant funding or other resources available, because then we could certainly reach more people.”

Even when a resident agrees to treatment, options are not always available, said Nan Franks CEO of the Addictions Services Council.

“We don’t have the capacity locally for on-demand treatment,” Franks said. “We try to stay with someone once they’ve committed so we can support them and keep them engaged and alive until they enter treatment.”

The wait to get into local inpatient or outpatient programs can take days or even weeks, she said.

“We lost someone last week, and there are some who may say he didn’t want the help because he was a frequent overdoser,” she said. “When I first met him, he wanted it, and we couldn’t get it to him quickly enough.”

For more information about Addiction Services Council or to find help for yourself or a loved one suffering from addiction call: 513-281-7880.
 

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