Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Officials, local delegation launch pilot program ‘Quick Response Team’ against opioid addiction

The $500,000 pilot program is two years in the making and is based on a similar but much smaller-scale program in Colerain Township, Ohio, one of the hardest hit regions in the country.

From left: Wilmington City Council members Charlie Rivenbark, Paul Lawler, and Margaret Haynes; Representative Deb Butler; Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo; New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White; District Attorney Ben David; Representatives Holly Grange and Ted Davis; Councilman Clifford Barnett; State Senator Michael Lee. (Port City Daily photo | File)
From left: Wilmington City Council members Charlie Rivenbark, Paul Lawler, and Margaret Haynes; Representative Deb Butler; Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo; New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White; District Attorney Ben David; Representatives Holly Grange and Ted Davis; Councilman Clifford Barnett; State Senator Michael Lee. (Port City Daily photo | File)

WILMINGTON — Law enforcement leaders, addiction specialists, and local officials gathered Friday to launch the region’s “Quick Response Time.” The project is two years in the making, designed to help combat the region’s opioid addiction crisis.

The program has been discussed by a number of local organizations, including Coastal Horizons, Wilmington City Council, and the Wilmington Police Department, since 2016. The Quick Response Team is based on a similar plan, launched in Colerain, Ohio — sadly acknowledged as one of the state’s hardest hit towns. Colerain was also one of the first areas hit hard by synthetic opioids like fentanyl, causing a string of deaths that would foreshadow similar fatal overdoses nationwide, including in Wilmington.

The Colerain plan was both simple and ambitious: a network of law enforcement, emergency responders, and health care workers would coordinate in order to visit every overdose victim with 72 hours; those struggling with addiction would be given an overview of available treatment options, counseling, and access to medication like Narcan and naloxone.

Colerain officials visited Wilmington last year and shared the plan’s success: repeat overdoses in Colerain went down by a third, and about 80 percent of those visited by the response team entered some kind of treatment.

But the success didn’t come without a cost, and the Wilmington area would need a much more active team. Belmont County, where Colerain Township is located, has a population of about 70,000; New Hanover County has roughly four times as many residents and a much broader network of law enforcement and emergency response agencies that would have to communicate in order to direct the team to those who had recently overdosed.

Neither Wilmington or New Hanover County – or Coastal Horizons, the region’s primary state-funded center for addiction-related services – had the funding for a program like Colerain’s on a scale large enough to tackle the region’s issue.

That’s where state legislators stepped in.

Sponsored by Representatives Ted Davis, Deb Butler, and Holly Grange, House Bill 324 is a bi-partisan attempt to see if the program could work on a much larger scale. The bill provides $250,000 a year for two years, providing at least three positions: a “peer support specialist” (someone with personal experience with addiction), a behavioral health specialist, and part-time support from a medical professional.

Coastal Horizons Clinical Director Kenny House. (Port City Daily photo | File)
Coastal Horizons Clinical Director Kenny House. (Port City Daily photo | File)

According to Kenny House, Clinical Director for Coastal Horizons, it’s difficult to know exactly how many people the program will treat, but a goal will be about 400 people over the two-year program.

The Quick Response Team is a pilot program that, as with Colerain’s team, will provide real-world data, allowing skeptics and believers alike to evaluate whether it has made an impact on the area’s high rates of opioid abuse and overdoses.

The team will officially go to work on Monday, August 6. Data from the first six months of the pilot program will be released on February 1, 2019, by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the City of Wilmington.

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