New response team is a lifeline for overdose survivors

By on September 29, 2019

The response team can provide clients with the life-saving drug Naloxone. (Richard L. Miller)

In an effort to open a new front in the battle against the nation’s opioid crisis, the Dare County’s Saving Lives Task Force has created a response team designed to provide immediate support to overdose survivors, and in many cases, to serve as a crucial link to additional help.

When the team is notified of an overdose from either first responders, healthcare providers, friends or family members, an outreach worker reaches out to set up a face-to-face meeting with the survivor and his or her support network within the first 72 hours. Kits containing Naloxone, the lifesaving drug that reverses an opioid overdose, can be provided at that visit, along with overdose prevention training, support resources and information on the Manteo-based syringe exchange program called Highlife 252.

The response team involves local public health employees, mental health professionals, information technology experts, EMS and other local service providers, according to the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Its work is currently funded by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Injury and Violence Prevention Branch.

Since launching a pilot program in Kill Devil Hills last fall – and expanding those efforts to all of Dare County in the spring of 2019 – the Saving Lives Response Team has served a total of 64 community members and provided more than 106 face-to-face visits with individuals and their families who are seeking care, according to the Dare DHHS.

In addition, the team, on 19 occasions, has provided transportation for clients to needed treatment services, with 15 of those cases being out of town facilities.

And while initially formed to provide help in the critical first hours after an overdose, approximately one-third of the team’s clients so far have not been overdose survivors, but community members who have reached out for help.

“We’ve been encouraged by the results and impact of the [response team],” Saving Lives Task Force co-chair Roxana Ballinger said in an email to the Voice. “We have also been especially encouraged by the number of community members, who have not been overdose survivors, who have reach out to the team for assistance. It is proof that this service is needed, and people really do want help.”

According to statistics provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the state saw a 151 percent increase in the rate of opioid deaths between 2013 and 2017 – which in 2017 was 18.3 per 100,000 residents. As for Dare County, there were 11 unintentional opioid overdose deaths in 2017, the last year for which data is available, as well almost 2 million opioid pills prescribed to county residents, NCDHHS reports.

The need for such a response team emerged after reports by first responders and other medical providers in Dare County who began to see repeat drug overdose survivors who, after receiving emergency medical intervention, were left without the needed support to help them recover.

How long the response team works with clients varies depending on their needs, if they request more assistance or are willing to accept support, according to Ballinger.

Overdose survivors, Ballinger noted, are logical recipients of the intervention services to reduce overdose deaths. But she stressed that help isn’t limited to just survivors and is available to anyone wants it.

“We want a no-wrong-door program to get help for those who want it,” she said. “Being flexible, totally accessible and building trust has been critical to our success.”

With the response team just a year old, Ballinger said members were uncertain of what to expect prior to the team’s establishment.

“We were not sure what to expect from the overdose survivors,” she explained. “Did they want help now? Would they be interested in going to rehab or detox? Was transportation a barrier to them getting help? Did they just need to establish a connection with a non-judgmental person, who they could confide in and trust?”

But what the team has found, she noted, was that everyone’s situation was unique.

“There is not one specific motive or need we see in every individual we serve,” Ballinger noted. “We have also learned that this process takes a village. Our community partners have been essential in the development and implementation of this program.”

To contact the Saving Lives Response Team, call 252-216-8036


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