Pennsylvania has lost far too many loved ones to addiction. The latest CDC data reveals 5,388 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose in 2017 – the highest number in the United States – leaving families and communities devastated. As the crisis worsens, residents are searching for solutions, and so are we. Innovators around the Keystone State are tackling this crisis with fresh ideas, energy and optimism resulting in ten innovative programs with inspiring results.
The Innovation Now initiative recognizes innovators across multiple sectors needed at the table to address addiction – prevention, treatment, recovery, criminal justice, law enforcement and health professionals – leaders who are creating solutions and driving change.
The Pennsylvania Innovation Now report features ten revolutionary programs you need to know about.
The best way to prevent a substance use disorder is by building up protective factors -- delaying the onset of first use, having positive adult relationships, and being involved in your community. Family Support Centers’ goal is to strengthen protective factors by focusing on child development, parenting education, and helping families find connections and support in the community. Twenty-eight centers operate around Allegheny County supporting nearly 3,000 families.
Because of Pennsylvania’s unique landscape – mountains, lakes, cities, and rural areas – having consistent prevention messaging is crucial to reaching and helping people. individuals. The Commonwealth Prevention Alliance utilizes a grassroots network to support prevention efforts statewide while adjusting materials to fit the specific needs of individual communities. Thanks to their services, many rural areas and smaller communities have important prevention materials.
Eliminating barriers to treatment makes all the difference. Positive Recovery Solutions brings treatment to patients via a mobile van. Operating in 28 counties, they provide long-acting naltrexone services throughout Pennsylvania, increasing the number of people in treatment by physically meeting them where they are.
There’s a short window of opportunity to get someone struggling with substance use into treatment. Pennsylvania’s Warm Hand-Off seizes the critical moment when someone is revived from an overdose to connect them to treatment. The warm hand-off is a seamless transition for opioid overdose survivors from emergency departments to specialty substance use disorder treatment that improves their likelihood for recovery.
As overdose deaths continued to climb in Luzerne County, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis knew she had to do something. DA Salavantis wanted to help people struggling with addiction before they came in contact with law enforcement. Luzerne County’s Pre-Arrest Diversion Program provides an incentive for people with an addiction to avoid arrest by entering supervised treatment for 90 days. Because recovery is a lifelong process, the program doesn’t end after that period. Instead, participants continue to work with case managers who assist in their ongoing recovery.
When the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) saw an alarming rate of fatal overdoses after someone was released from incarceration, they stepped up to find a solution. Pennsylvania DOC created the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Program, which aims to reduce overdose deaths and help inmates struggling with addiction. The MAT Program provides long-acting naltrexone to inmates prior to their release to better equip an inmate’s recovery as they prepare to return to the general public. This month, it also piloted the administration of Sublocade, the first FDA-approved once monthly extended release buprenorphine injection.
Mental illness and addiction frequently go hand-in-hand. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Certified Peer Specialist Program aims to help both. The program trains inmates in recovery from mental health and/or substance use disorders to assist other inmates with similar problems. The Certified Peer Specialist provides support services to their fellow inmates while gaining skills that can help with employment upon release. Lynn Patrone, a mental health advocate says the program “gives participants a sense of self-worth and value.” That’s one of the amazing things about this program, giving people a sense of purpose and hope.
8. RASE Project
In 2001, a group of concerned individuals sat down to discuss how they could help their community hurt by addiction. Their answer was the RASE Project, a recovery community organization that provides a unique blend of both professional and peer-based recovery support services that has expanded across the state. The RASE Project’s mission is simple, to help individuals affected by substance use disorder and enhance the recovery process. They aren’t clients; they are participants. Recognizing everyone’s path to recovery is as unique as the individual, RASE embraces all pathways to recovery in this all-hands-on-deck approach.
Those who engage in drug use are at a higher risk for contracting or transmitting infections. Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition eliminates that risk by promoting health, dignity and human rights of individuals with substance use. It seeks to expand access to naloxone, MAT, and syringe exchange to promote health among the community. The co-founder, Devin Reaves, is on course to train 500 advocates this year. “One person can make a huge difference,” Reaves says. “You only have to change the mind of one legislator.”
10. Prevention Point
Prevention Point is a harm reduction organization offering services such as syringe exchange, treatment referrals, and primary and specialty HIV/HCV care. Its addiction services include peer specialists, community education programs, and Naloxone education and distribution, all of which are designed to treat people at different points of their addiction or recovery. Prevention Point’s Dina Stonbery said when syringe exchange was legalized in the city, Prevention Point grew into a welcome mat for thousands in need.
Five thousand three hundred eighty-eight loved ones gone. That’s 5,388 missed opportunities to intervene, prevent, reduce harm and so much more. Innovation Now shines a bright spotlight on programs helping people at critical points to make sure there are no missed chances to save a life. When these promising programs are brought to scale throughout the state and country, there’s hope we will have the proper care and interventions to help everyone affected by substance use disorder.