NEWPORT, Ky. -- A new approach to battling the heroin epidemic in Greater Cincinnati could make its way into Northern Kentucky.
Officials with the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy say they hope to launch a pilot “Quick Response Team” to tackle the rapid rise of heroin overdoses and deaths in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.
The program, likely to be modeled after an effort launched in Colerain Township more than a year ago, would focus on getting residents who have recently overdosed into treatment.
“We’re finding that our first responders are resuscitating many of the same people over and over again, which tells us they just aren’t finding their way into treatment,” said Kimberly Moser, director of the Drug Control Policy office, based in Newport. “We’re trying to streamline our services to figure out what we can do better, but mostly we just want to show people that we care.”
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In Colerain Township, overdoses are down by 36 percent since the northern Cincinnati suburb began its quick response approach. There - 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 the team sets out to meet with any of the individuals they can find, offering resources for detox, recovery and treatment.
“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,” said Daniel Meloy, the township’s public safety director.
The team’s visits can last minutes to hours. Often, residents don’t have insurance, Medicaid, or even an ID card: These are 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.
Since unveiling the program, more than 80 percent of the 160 residents who were visited by the team have gone into treatment.
“We are trying to give people hope and a reason to think that they can beat this thing – this disease,” Meloy said.
Together, teams hope to make bigger impact
The success has been so significant, Hamilton County announced in August that it would launch its own response team. Other communities, including Norwood and Lawrenceburg, have taken the model on as well.
The program’s approach of combining law enforcement, health care professionals and addiction specialists is a first-of-its-kind 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 from returning to using. We have got to steer our resources toward treatment, because filling up our jails is not working.”
Back in Northern Kentucky, Moser said communities have been overwhelmed with unprecedented numbers of overdoses in recent months.
In August, more than 210 heroin-related overdoses were recorded across Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. Across St. Elizabeth Healthcare emergency rooms, more than 1,000 vials of Naloxone – a drug that reverses overdoses from opioids – have been handed out, Moser said.
A quick response model, Moser said, has the support of law enforcement and elected officials who have begun meeting monthly to craft a plan.
“The first responders – we’re the ones to see these people overdosed or dead in their cars, streets and hotel lobbies,” said Christopher Conners, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force. “Even though we have a huge infrastructure of people working to address this issue, there hasn’t been an organized effort that includes healthcare, treatment experts and law enforcement all coming together to push this forward.”
Within the next month, Moser says she hopes to launch a pilot quick response program in Independence.
“We know everyone is on board; it’s just a matter of getting all the pieces in place,” she said.
More treatment options needed
While the quick response model has seen a success, officials say the program still has hurdles to overcome.
“We don’t have the capacity locally for on-demand treatment,” said Nan Franks CEO of the Addictions Services Council. “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.
In Northern Kentucky, Moser said officials expect the same challenge.
“There are a lot of gaps and barriers, and certainly we need more treatment capacity,” she said. “But hopefully as we continue to put more solutions in place and work on adding that capacity we can get to a place where we’re finally a step ahead of this issue.”