Mercy Health screens incoming patients for drug addiction, connects them with recovery services

Posted at 4:30 AM, Oct 10, 2017

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- When carfentanil arrived in Cincinnati in 2016, bringing with it a wave of overdoses, Mercy West Hospital's emergency room experienced the crisis firsthand.

Given the enormous scale of the heroin epidemic in the Tri-State, technicians such as Eric McCallister have begun a new effort to ensure more of Mercy West's patients end up in the recovery programs they need.

McCallister and ER nurses at several of Mercy Health's hospitals around Greater Cincinnati now perform a quick screening process on all incoming patients, he said, to identify signs of drug addiction and direct them toward treatment. Many of the new screeners are Americorps members funded by a $138,000 grant from ServeOhio

"Addiction is something that is wrought with stigma and so you have to have people that believe people can get better," said Brian Gray of the Behavioral Health Institute at Mercy Health. 

"(We ask them about) any feelings of being down, depressed or hopeless, or about a lack of interest in things that are normally pleasurable," McCallister added.

The screenings are for every patient, including those who come in with health concerns unrelated to drug abuse or addiction.

If a patient's answers do raise red flags, screeners work to educate them about recovery services, refer them to treatment and "make that warm handoff when possible."

Gray hopes that drug addiction screening will one day become a standard part of the care process.

"Some patients don't want help with their addiction but at least we plant the seed, let them know we're here," emergency services director Beth Pierce said.