ASHLAND There is a short window of time following a drug overdose — 24 to 72 hours — during which drug users are more likely to accept help for recovery, addictions experts say.
Boyd County first responders and Pathways Inc., the non-profit mental health agency, have joined forces to provide help to addicts during those critical hours.
The Boyd County Quick Response Team, made up of law enforcement officers, emergency medical workers and mental health providers, will go to addicts’ homes and provide guidance toward recovery services without the threat of arrest — if the users want the help.
The goal is to save lives and turn addicts toward a sober path. “If they don’t take this opportunity, as likely as not their next overdose will be fatal,” Pathways director of emergency services Rebecca Bauder said.
“We talk to them about options — long-term, short term, outpatient, needle exchanges and so on,” said peer support specialist Cody Williams.
Addicts need options because treatment needs are different for each person, he said.
A police officer or deputy is among team members for each visit. However, police presence is intended for security rather than arrest, Bauder said.
“The goal for having police there is safety for the responding team. Also we want to show we’re trying to help, and this is a role switch for police,” she said.
In fact, police want to avoid making arrests so they don’t do warrant checks before going to the addict’s home. “So they don’t dig too deep,” she said.
The team is a valuable resource for law enforcement because “we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” said Boyd County Sheriff Bobby Jack Woods. “We’ve been fighting the war on drugs since 1968 ... we’ve been locking people up for years. We don’t need to arrest more drug users; we need to get them help,” he said.
Locking up addicts costs taxpayers money and typically leaves users still addicted, increasing the likelihood of further crimes, he said. “This helps everybody all around.”
A priority for the team is establishing trust with addicts, and Williams brings a layer of credibility because he is a recovering heroin addict. Williams, 28, said he struggled with heroin since high school, has done jail time and been off drugs for four years.
He spent time at a recovery center as a requirement for probation.
As a former addict, he can show an example for addicts to emulate, he said.
“I have a lot of respect for Cody, to wake up every morning and constantly choose not to use, to overcome that huge struggle and function like the rest of us,” Bauder said.
The team was created last fall and is working to overcome a significant obstacle to reaching more addicts.
The program requires addicts to consent. It depends on referrals, which can come from police, emergency workers, social workers, friends, family or the addicts themselves.
However, privacy regulations that are part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act make it difficult for emergency workers and some others to provide names and other information, and that makes it difficult to get the word out to more addicts, Bauder said.
They would like to do more family education, she said.
People interested in learning more about the team and its work may contact Williams at (606) 939-8133.
The Pathways crisis hotline is (606) 324-1141 or (800) 562-8909. The agency’s website is www.pathways-ky.org.
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