PITTSFIELD, Mass. — County Ambulance is looking to launch a new post-overdose intervention program to help its patients connect with rehab and health services.
County Ambulance President Brian Andrews said the idea would be that emergency medical technicians and paramedics on staff will visit those who were transported by the service for an overdose within 24 to 72 hours and connect them with resources.
The hope is to take a bite out of the opioid problem, reduce the number of patients being transported, and improve the overall health of the community.
"Although some of the statistics recently that have come out are suggesting that deaths are down from overdoses, we're seeing that overdoses is up. Whether they result in deaths or not, we are busier just in this first quarter of 2019. We have given more Narcan administrations than we have had any other quarter yet. Overdose patients who are being admitted to the hospital are up," Andrews said.
Andrews is applying to the Department of Public Health to launch a mobile integrated health care program. The program would be the first EMS-based post-overdose followup program and would connect the caregiver who just saved an individual's life with that individual to provide information and help with treatments and services.
"As EMS, we are often seen as the helpers. We're not seen as law enforcement or somebody who will turn them in for anything," Andrews said.
Andrews said other programs include law enforcement and that discourages people who fear there will be criminal prosecution. In County's planned program, the EMTs would be the ones working with the patients to connect and inform than about things such as available rehabilitation programs, Narcan distributors, and the needle exchange program. County's staff would be specifically trained in communicating with people with substance abuse.
"It gives us the ability to bond with that patient, if you will, and in some cases convince them to get the help they need," Andrews said.
If successful, Andrews said there could be a decrease in people being taken to the hospital for overdoses because of the various preventative measures. That would help ease times when County is short on resources to help with other medical conditions happening in the area.
"We have resources available but there are times when it gets tight when you are out taking care of people who have substance abuse disorder, alcoholism, and we are taking care of those patients and other calls are coming in. We kind of have to rush what we are doing," Andrews said.
But there are other times when County Ambulance's staff has a lull. Andrews said at those times the staff can go out and meet with the individuals who just received care for an overdose.
"We are on the clock 24 hours a day. It is not costing us anything to send people out," Andrews said.
Andrews said he has personal experience with somebody who suffered from addiction and it wasn't until they found a doctor who showed compassion and didn't see it as just another visit for the same thing. Additionally, EMTs can also feel a bit of frustration when they have to transport the same people for the same issues over and over again and they can't do much about it.
"We have in our business what can be known as compassion fatigue and that's what we want to avoid. We want our people to see that they can do positive other than just saving a life and get them to the hospital. If we can convince people to seek long-term treatment and get out of the bonds of that disorder, that is going to make our people better as well mentally and emotionally," Andrews said.
He added that the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative is also looking for a grant to help bring those who work in various drug prevention and treatment programs to partner with County on this effort.
Andrews received approval from the Board of Health, a requirement to apply to launch the program, on Wednesday.
"I think this is a very, very needed intervention," Health Director Gina Armstrong said.
Andrews said he'll be applying by June 1 and there is a 30-day period for the state to review and approve the plan. He hopes to have it up and running by July 1.
"We feel there is a pressure to get this going as soon as we can just because we're not seeing things get a whole lot better, it is getting worse," Andrews said.
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