More Resources Needed For Survivors of Opioid Overdose
Narcan (naloxone) is a drug being used frequently to reverse an opioid overdose as it happens. It is most often used by emergency rooms and first responders, but has progressively been gaining widespread availability to laypersons, as well.
It’s saved countless lives, but there is always the problem of addiction – that is, just because someone nearly dies, it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to do it again.
For example, it’s been speculated that the artist Prince was treated with naloxone for an opioid overdose just a few days before his death. A fact that is very troubling in light of reports that he may have had Percocet in this system when he found.
Prince was purportedly going to meet with an addiction specialist the very day he died. This was a man who has all sorts of resources available to him. So what about other addicts?
The truth is, on the frontline of this epidemic, patients are being saved by Narcan, but there is not always a mechanism in place to connect them to treatment services. If addicts do not have a support system and line of treatment options ready and waiting for them, the probability that they will suffer an opioid overdose again is high.
The use of Narcan has now become so prevalent that among first responders it is used as a verb (i.e. “He was Narcaned).
Patients who have been “Narcaned”, so to speak, often wake up in the ER, disoriented and agitated. Their high is gone. They can often be argumentative and act out aggressively, both physically and verbally.
For those not trained to handle such individuals, treating an opioid overdose and its aftermath can be frustrating. And to make matters worse, individuals with more acute needs may be waiting while all this goes down.
Moreover, ER personnel or first responders are saving lives, but they may be unsure of what to do with those persons once the overdose has been reversed.
It’s nearly akin to treating heart disease with a defibulator, and then simply letting the person back out the street without further treatment. Undoubtedly, that person will return to the emergency room.The same is true of an addict.
The phenomenon has thus created a sort “revolving door” in ERs, where responders are bringing back patients from the brink of death numerous times.
What’s Being Done
Some hospitals are employing persons known as recovery coaches to help with the problem. These coaches work with detoxing patients, which frees up personnel to attend to other individuals. Some of these coaches are former addicts trained to work with patients who have overdosed and are coming down. These persons then help the patients connect to long-term drug treatment facilities.
For example, LifelineED is a program at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. Here, around 70 overdose patients are arriving each month. Indeed, Camden County is #1 in the state for opioid-related deaths.
Recovery coaches offer peer support, which is beneficial to many patients. Moreover, patients are comforted, knowing they are being understood and assisted by someone who has been through it.
The coach often has resources unknown to hospital staff, such as contact information for local facilities and programs which accept Medicaid. It’s often the same resources the coaches have used themselves.
Naturally, the patient cannot be forced into treatment, but their willingness is often enhanced by the fact that they have come very close to death. When they do go home, they are given contact information (i.e. the coach) so that they aren’t left completely alone to deal with recovery.
Typically, someone from the program will follow up with patients in the next 24 hours. They seek to contact patients on a weekly basis by phone or with a visit for the next two months. This is not something you would ever see happen with other health personnel – particularly home visits.
Survivors are quite often willing to allow coaches into their homes to talk about program options. Some patients may require a few days post-overdose to prepare for a long detox stay, or to consider the benefits of an inpatient vs. outpatient treatment program. During this time, they may need to pack and arrange childcare.
It is also during this time that coaches engage in home visits, and help the patient to realize that this may be their last opportunity for recovery.
And more programs are coming to light. For example, the Mid-Michigan Medical Center in Gladwin, Michigan, has a program called Project Assert. Baltmore, Maryland has the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program at Mercy Medical Center. The goal of both programs is to decrease recidivism rates to the emergency room and connect persons with treatment opportunities.
Funding for these program has become more available since President Obama requested over $1 billion into the 2017 budget to fight the opioid overdose and addiction epidemic. This is over twice the amount in the 2016 budget.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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