By Mark Powell
Little by little, the number of overdoses in Anne Arundel County, Maryland kept rising. The problem eventually reached the point where county leaders knew something had to be done. So they created a special task force to explore options. At first, the Crisis Response System (CRS) had limited success in reaching overdose survivors. The local fire department wanted to do more than just pass along pamphlets and information; they wanted to actually connect people to resources. Then they heard about something that might work in their community.
They learned Manchester, New Hampshire’s Safe Stations program was producing positive results by turning fire stations into safe havens for people struggling with addiction. So the task force decided to give that approach a try.
On April 20, 2017, Annapolis City, Anne Arundel County officials, and the Anne Arundel County Fire and Police Departments hosted a press conference launching the Safe Stations program. And they were stunned by what happened next. Within one hour of that press conference, Safe Stations received its first case. A woman walked into a fire station seeking help … and has been in recovery ever since.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anyone struggling with a substance use disorder can come to any of Anne Arundel County’s 41 fire or police stations and ask for assistance. Firefighters and CRS staff are trained to ask questions such as, “Why are you here?”, “Why today?”, and “What are you looking for?” As the county’s “community warmline,” CRS supports residents in crisis and links them to resources within the community. Safe Stations calls receive an immediate response from CRS. “Police officers make this a first line, priority call. Safe Station calls are an emergency,” says Crisis Response System Director Jen Corbin.
“When someone comes into the fire station, we offer them food, a snack, water, a place to sit and more. We want to get back to the human side,” recently retired Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Allan Graves explains.
“If we put everyone in a box, then they’re just a number. We want it to be an individual case and have staff think outside of the box because everyone has their own story,” adds Jen Corbin, Crisis Response System Director.
By finding something that’s succeeding elsewhere, replicating it and making it available to its own residents, folks in Anne Arundel County have discovered there are no lines or boundaries for innovative ideas that work.
Anne Arundel County was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.