MEDINA TWP. — The Medina County Opiate Response Team is taking its message of treatment and sobriety from the streets to the jail cells.
Gail Houk, director of forensic services for Alternative Paths, which oversees the program, said Friday that the change is due to an increase in jail referrals in the 18 months the team has been up and running. She spoke during the monthly Medina County Opiate Task Force meeting.
“We started accepting jail referrals because we’ve seen a decline in opiate overdoses in the county,” said Houk. “We thought what we can do to continue to identify the people in need in the community.”
Reaching them in jail was a natural next step.
As people go into the jail, they receive a toxicology screening and if they test positive for any opiate, the response team considers them as a potential referral and the team contacts them.
The response team is a collaboration between Alternative Paths and the Medina County Sheriff’s Office with the goal of meeting with people who overdose and trying to find appropriate treatment.
“We’ve been up and running now for 18 months, which is kind of mind-blowing to me because it seems like just yesterday the sheriff said to me ‘Gail, we have the opportunity for a grant. I think we need to do this,’” Houk said. “It’s been a very productive 18 months.”
Two grants fund the response team — one from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and another secured by the Medina County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board from Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Houk said the team has received 353 referrals including 182 community referrals and 171 jail referrals. Of those referrals, 31 were repeat referrals for people who weren’t successful with treatment the first time.
The team was able to successfully make contact with 80 percent of the people referred to them for treatment, Houk said.
“When we get our referrals from the community, most of the time we are relying on law enforcement to provide those and we are getting the phone number of a relative,” Houk said.
Of the people contacted, 46 percent agreed to make an appointment for treatment.
“Of all of our data, for me, this is the most disappointing statistic in that we can only get 46 percent of those people to agree to get to help because we absolutely have the resources available in our community and we are so thankful for how far we have come,” she said. “It’s not that we can’t get them in, it’s getting that person to agree.”
While the team may struggle to get people to agree to treatment, 95 percent of the people who did agree to make an appointment attended their first appointment and 98 percent of those people stayed engaged in treatment for at least 30 days.
In the past 18 months, the team has responded after 20 overdoses from county residents and 18 overdoses within the county by people who were not residents.
The team also has received nine out-of-county referrals.
Becky Paris, response team clinician, said the team’s success comes in working directly with addicts and their families.
Paris refers to the first step of making contact as the “front door experience.”
“This is where our engagement begins,” she said. “They open the front door. Either it’s the referral or it’s a family member and there is a look of shock on their faces and hesitancy.
“They are wondering why we are there.”
Paris said that sense of shock soon turns into relief as she and other members of the response team offer help to people who are struggling with addition. According to Paris, over the last nearly two years there have only been two times that she can recall when she was not welcomed at a referral’s home.
“We’ve been invited in for a lot of cups of coffee,” she said.
Members of the team meet referrals wherever they are staying, often at a relative’s house, and most of the referrals have just experienced an overdose and still have not fully recovered so having a connection to family is important.
“I see the value of the family being a team and getting that person into treatment and to keep them in treatment,” Paris said. “So, if grandma’s going to offer us a cup of coffee, I’ll certainly take it.”