By Mark Powell
When Timing Makes All the Difference
Monday, August 15, 2016 was a day people in Huntington will never forget. Their community made national headlines with a horrifying statistic. In a single day, 26 overdoses were reported in a 5-hour timeframe. Bad as that was, a closer look revealed something startling: none of the people who overdosed had received treatment.
That hit local leaders like cold water in the face. Something, they agreed, had to be done. It took a while, but they finally found a model in Colerain, Ohio that looked like it could produce effective results in Huntington. Funding from two grants was secured. And in December 2017, Huntington’s Quick Response Team (QRT) began operating.“
It’s a practical approach that reaches people with substance use problems when they need help most, bridging the gap between substance misuse and treatment,” says QRT coordinator Connie Priddy. They don’t provide treatment; rather they connect people to those who do. Its message is simple, Priddy says. “We care. If you want treatment, we’ll help you get it.”
The team consists of one EMS personnel, one law enforcement official, one treatment provider, and one representative of a faith-based organization. Within 72 hours of a reported overdose, the person is visited by the QRT. The team is experienced in helping the person navigate a very complex system. They even provide transportation to treatment, when possible.
After the initial overdose event, sometimes the encounter is not pleasant for the first-responder or the individual. People often wake up confused and angry. They aren’t always open to treatment in that moment. However, they are more than willing to speak to the QRT after the fact. Most are touched that someone cares enough to visit and appreciates the helping hand.
One unique feature is law enforcement’s role on the team. Police officers wear civilian clothing during visits to build trust. They make sure the person knows the officer isn’t there to arrest them. The Huntington Police Department even coordinates drug raids directly with the QRT. This way no raids are done immediately after they visit to foster a spirit of trust.
Priddy remembers that when the QRT started, organizers worried they would have trouble finding people who had survived an overdose. Within two weeks, their concern shifted to whether they could keep up with the demand.
The QRT has reached 500 people since its creation. Of those, 30% (about 150) agreed to get treatment.
Cabell County (where Huntington is located) is also seeing lower overdose rates since the QRT started. Some 1,831 overdose cases were reported there in 2017; there were 740 fewer cases in 2018, a 40% decrease. Priddy is quick to point out the QRT alone isn’t responsible for the decline. But it is a factor.
“If I come into the office in the morning and run data and nothing comes up because there weren’t any overdoses the day before, that’s a great day,” Priddy says. “And there have been days like that.”
Thanks to the QRT’s ongoing work, there will likely be more ahead, too.
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.