By Mark Powell
The Golden Second of Opportunity
Month after month, the numbers kept spiking. That was upsetting local authorities in the Cincinnati suburb of Colerain Township back in the early 2010s. These weren’t cold, indifferent statistics. Each number represented someone who had experienced an opioid-related overdose; each number represented a person in danger and a life at risk. And unless something was done, that upward trend would keep climbing.
Colerain Township was known for its narcotic activity in the Cincinnati metro area. Officials realized they needed to determine the key factors contributing to the epidemic in their community. “So we reached out to people smarter than us to figure out the scope of the problem,” Colerain Assistant Fire Chief Will Mueller remembers. “The numbers of overdoses were one thing; but we needed to understand the factors and put measures in place to control it.”
Local leaders quickly identified two key factors. First, the prevalence and ease of access to narcotics was evident. Secondly, they discovered a lack of connection to treatment resources. Colerain’s Police Department was already heavily engaged in the supply reduction aspect of the problem, so that directed leaders to focus on the harm reduction side of the problem. That led to the formation of a community-based group to discuss what could be done. “We recognized we couldn’t control drugs coming through, but we could control the lack of connection to resources,” Mueller says. They quickly discovered that a very small window of opportunity exists for convincing people who suffer from substance misuse to get help. Mueller calls it, “the golden second.”
So, the Colerain Quick Response Team (QRT) was created in July 2015.
“We discovered the immediate aftermath of an overdose isn’t the best time to reach folks,” Mueller noted. “The QRT typically reaches out a few days after an overdose occurs and brings resources to the person’s doorstep. That removes barriers to treatment, including stigma, time, transportation and access.”
The team consists of a police officer, addiction expert, and a firefighter/ paramedic. Police officers provide safety to the team while also engaging in supply reduction efforts. “They’re not there to get the person in trouble,” Mueller points out. “They’re there to offer a hand and extend a warm transfer. The firefighter/ paramedic helps with health issues by applying their training to spot health related issues associated with substance misuse. Additionally, the addiction expert performs an assessment and begins recovery engagement.”
When the QRT first started making visits once a week, team members were unsure what response would greet them. They were surprised by the reaction. “People weren’t running away,” Mueller says. “Many embraced us with hugs and tears. We were genuinely breaking down barriers between law enforcement and those with substance use disorders. So the Quick Response Teams took off immediately and saw success right out of the starting gate.”
Soon, a new set of numbers began appearing. These, however, are positive and encouraging. Colerain’s QRT has made over 400 follow-up visits. About 75 percent of them resulted in face-to-face interactions with 80 percent of individuals going into treatment.
Most encouraging of all, Colerain reports a nearly 50 percent reduction in overdose responses – a reduction in lives lost, in the impact of disease, and in the disease of addiction itself.
“The QRT works because it’s a community-based approach,” Mueller concludes. “That’s its magic. You cross paths with those you’ve helped because you live in the same community they do. That’s a huge win for everyone.”
Colerain Quick Response Team 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.