WSAZ Investigates: Addiction Busters
A record number of people overdosed on drugs in Cabell County last year, an average of more than five people a day. As numbers spiral out of control, it drains time and resources for all of us.
A new team of folks is working to break that cycle, cutting down on overdoses and saving lives in the process.
They follow up sometimes just hours after the latest overdose.
Behind each overdose, there’s a name and a mission.
“Nick, we need to keep our eye out and find him," said Cpl. Christina Trembley with the Huntington Police Department and part of the QRT or Quick Response Team on a recent day.
The most permanent member of the QRT is Larrecsa Cox, a paramedic with Cabell County EMS. The final member is a counselor from a local mental health or treatment center. On this particular day it’s Sue Howland with Prestera.
Their job is to track down every OD in the last 24 hours, up to 72 hours after a weekend. On this day, there are four overdoses, plus two more people who have been referred to them for help.
The first stop is a referral, which turns into a conversation with another client across the street.
Since December when it began, the team has gotten 72 people in treatment. It’s a 31 percent success rate, considering they’ve been able to track down 230 potential clients.
The QRT gets names from a database of people who have overdosed in Cabell County. There have been 400 referrals out of 469 overdose calls in the county. Some people who have overdosed more than once could be referred multiple times to the QRT.
Its mission is to follow up with drug users after the ambulance leaves to make sure they have an opportunity to get help and even stop using.
"I don't want somebody to die,” Cox said. “Recovery is possible. You have to be alive in order to be in recovery."
The QRT began in December as part of the city's response to the growing epidemic, including a police crackdown on suppliers and getting more naloxone in the community to drug users and their loved ones.
"I think our method is working," Cox said.
After five years of working for the EMS as first an EMT and then a paramedic, Cox said her current job is a chance to be long-term lifeline, not just a short-term Band-Aid.
"We can offer our patients something tangible that can work,” she said. “More than words."
She said her fellow paramedics have begun to embrace the idea, too, and pass out the QRT contact information on a regular basis too.
Cox and the QRT knock on doors where EMS has responded to an overdose call. If a drug user answers the door and they want help they'll get it, even if it means a drive to a treatment center that day. If not, they leave behind a packet including phone numbers and pamphlets with various area recovery programs and other information. Another visit or even visits are likely until they reach someone.
"We'll come back," Howland said.
Cox said it’s important to respond quickly, often just a few hours after paramedics leave, if possible. Sometimes they will even go to an active overdose call if time allows.
"If they know there's this band of strangers that is willing to help them, I think they are more likely to even just call us," Cox said.
Connie Priddy is the QRT Coordinator.
"It's giving me hope," she said.
She considers the program a success as part of city’s approach to solving the problem. Not only is it sending users to treatment, but she said the city’s violent crime rate is going down.
"When you treat someone with dignity and respect, they respond to that in kind," Priddy said.
With a 31 percent success rate of the people they talk to, it’s clear plenty of folks aren't interested. But Cox isn't discouraged.
"Even if it's one person, it's totally worth it," she said. "We'll be here when you are interested. The phone number won't change."
Success for her is "when we put ourselves out of a job. When we no longer have anybody to visit."
The QRT is funded by a pair of federal grants. It’s already gotten interest from other places looking to help solve their own drug epidemic.
While Cabell County EMS has gotten 469 overdose calls from December through the end of April, that is a dramatic difference from Dec. 2016 through April 2017 when there were 801 overdose calls.
Last month saw the smallest number of overdose calls in years with 62, as the numbers continue a recent trend of falling each month.
One important misconception: it does not take an overdose for the QRT to respond. They do take referrals.
For more information about the QRT you can call them at 304-526-8541, email them at QRT@ccems.org or look at their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/QRTHuntington/