Community SOS program designed to help opioid users overcome their addiction

New Castle County and Christiana Care Health System are partnering on a pilot program, which administrators hope will help combat the “public health emergency of our time.”

On Wednesday, March 14, County Executive Matthew Meyer announced the Community Substance Overdose Support (SOS) Program, where a special response team will follow up with opioid overdose survivors in their homes, and offer assistance, counseling and referrals to drug rehabilitation facilities.

Started with $500,000 in seed money from Christiana Care, the program is slated to begin in fall 2018.

The Community SOS team will consist of at least two engagement specialists with the likely addition of more personnel as the program advances, according to a press release from New Castle County.

During engagement with overdose survivors and their families, the team will use motivational interviewing, a method that has proven successful in addiction counseling, “to empower each patient in the decision-making process to take that critical first step to accept help for their substance use,” the release states.

The team will also offer Naloxone to family members and cohabitants of overdose patients to improve survivability in the event of a repeat overdose incident.

During a press conference at Christiana Hospital, Meyer said that he’d spent time talking with county paramedics and other health officials, where he learned that many times, visits were being paid to the same addresses for overdoses time and time again.

“There were 1,469 administrations of Narcan [an emergency opioid overdose medication] by first responders just last year in 2017 – a dramatic increase from the year before; and already this year … we’re seeing continued increases,” Meyer noted.

Larry Tan, head of the New Castle County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division, noted that while police have admitted to being unable to arrest their way out of the opioid crisis, first responders cannot “Narcan this problem away,” either.

He also echoed Meyer’s statement on repeat visits by paramedics to the same residences, helping the same people they’d helped before, noting that over 70 percent of the Narcan administrations took place in a home or residence, with paramedics treating the same victims.

“The individual [is] seemingly trapped in this cycle of overdose to overdose crises,” Tan said. “Narcan … only resolves the immediate issue. Once the patient survives the overdose, it’s imperative that efforts be made to encourage, assist, and even extend a lifeline to that individual to take the next step towards treatment.”

Tan said while the program is a work in progress, it holds promise on two levels: first, as a pathway towards a solution to opioid dependency, and second, as a model of collaboration undergone by the medical community to bring the program together.

“Christiana Care has also reached out to other healthcare institutions to invite their participation in the initiative as well,” he said.

Dr. Janice Nevin, Christiana Care President and Chief Executive Officer, said the numbers related to the opioid crisis are alarming.

“Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The number of emergency department overdose visits more than doubled in New Castle County over the past year,” she said.

Nevin added that the emergency room has treated 190 cases of opioid overdoses just since December 2017.

“That’s three people a day, and there were some days there were many more than that,” she said.

A recent report issued by the Center for Disease Control noted that emergency room visits for opioid overdoses rose 30 percent in all parts of the US from July 2016 through September 2017.

In response to the report, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who serves as chair of Delaware’s Behavioral Health Consortium, said she is both concerned and saddened by the CDC’s conclusions.

“We must continue to focus on long-term treatment, supportive recovery communities, and improved prevention and early intervention to stop the pipeline of progression,” she said. “We will continue to make all of these areas a key focus of our work, and look forward to issuing our first report and action steps in the coming months.”

View the CDC report here. And view Christiana Care's comprehensive approach to addiction medicine here.