Green, other Summit Co. communities visit overdose victims.

GREEN  An addiction counselor, a firemedic and a sheriff’s deputy go to a house.

It’s not a joke. It’s the city’s latest tool in the fight against opioid addiction.

Since January, the Green Outreach Team (GO Team) has been contacting overdose victims and their families every Wednesday to talk about treatment and, when possible, help them schedule assessments.

Green is one of 10 communities in Summit County to adopt the follow-up strategy pioneered by the Cincinnati suburb of Colerain Township. The success or failure of the GO Team and similar programs could inform how Stark County battles an opioid crisis that claimed 102 lives last year, including 85 from heroin and fentanyl-related drugs.

Fighting overdoses

Summit County had a record number of overdose deaths last year — at least 300 and counting, the majority involving opioids, said Gary Guenther, chief investigator for the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

One of those deaths landed Green in the national spotlight when a 16-year-old boy overdosed on heroin in a motel while his mother and grandmother were passed out in the same room.

The GO Team is part of the city’s multi-pronged response to the statewide opioid epidemic.

The city saw the number of EMS calls where firemedics used naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, jump from 27 in 2014 to 83 in 2016.

As of April, there had been 20 overdose calls this year, but the drugs involved were stronger. Rather than using a single dose of naloxone to bring back a victim, the Fire Department is using three to five doses, said Lt. Randy Porter, who oversees EMS operations.

“You see them and they’re dead; if the paramedics don’t respond right then, they’re gone,” said Summit County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Mike Walsh, a GO Team member.

Team on the go

The Canton Repository spent a recent afternoon with the GO Team as it visited overdose victims.

Porter combs EMS reports on a daily basis, flagging for follow-up those where firemedics used naloxone or found indications of alcohol or drug use. Families also can call the fire department’s non-emergency number to request a GO Team visit.

Walsh checks the Fire Department calls against Sheriff’s Office information. This keeps the team from missing someone, disrupting a criminal investigation or visiting a person with an outstanding warrant.

“We try to get them help instead of arrest them,” Walsh said.

The team scratched two names from its list because of law enforcement concerns on the day The Repository observed. Both individuals had been given naloxone, indicating an opioid overdose. The remaining two cases involved alcohol.

When the team arrived at the first house, Stephanie Treubig, a counselor with Oriana House, a treatment facility, led the conversation. Her introduction generally goes something like this: “Hi, you’re not in trouble. We’re here to help. My name is Stephanie.”

Walsh and Firemedic Jeremy Chambers went with Treubig to the home and occasionally joined the conversation. Having uniformed first responders on the team is intended to show an individual the authorities care about them.

The team spent several minutes talking to the resident before leaving information about treatment services and a handwritten letter from Treubig.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls you next week,” Walsh told Treubig when they returned to their vehicle.

No one answered the door at the next home, but the team left information and would return up to two more times or until it made contact.

“You hope it gets through, that something is done, something is said and it sparks some kind of change for them to get help,” said Chambers, who rotates on the team three other firemedics.

Colerain model

The GO Team is based on the Quick Response Team developed by Colerain Township, a Cincinnati suburb of some 58,000 residents. Surrounding Hamilton County had 335 overdoses in 2015, the most of any Ohio county, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

Colerain started follow-up visits with overdose victims in July 2015. During the six months before forming its Quick Response Team, the township responded to 96 overdoses, including 19 associated cardiac arrests.

In the six months after taking the new approach, the township saw the overdose number drop to 71 with seven associated cardiac arrests. The trend continued in the first half of 2016.

“When we’re reaching people within three to five days of the overdose, we’re still about 80 percent successful getting them into treatment,” said Colerain Township Public Safety Director Daniel P. Meloy, who estimated the team has done more than 300 follow-ups since it started.

Communities in northern Kentucky, Indiana and across Ohio have adopted the model.

“I think the realization is this is touching all facets of society,” Meloy said. “We’re all just an incident or a family member away from being right in the middle of asking, ‘What can we do?’”

Stark County lessons

The Canton Police Department is studying how the quick-response concept works. The department is already diverting suspects in non-violent misdemeanor cases to treatment when the crime is related to addiction or mental-health issues. Lt. John Gabbard saw merit in following-up with overdose victims, too.

“I’m open to anything at this point,” Gabbard said. “I’ll take any idea from any city and say, ‘How can we apply that here?’”

The number of suspected overdoses in Canton jumped from 233 in 2013 to 421 last year, according to the Canton Fire Department. The city also led Stark County in the number of overdose deaths last year.

But the volume of overdose calls could be a hurdle to an effective follow-up strategy.

“The number of opiate calls we get is quite significant, so I don’t know if that would hurt us manpower-wise to follow up with all of these,” said Canton Fire Chief Thomas Garra.

Taking stock 

Late last month, firefighters and police officers from around Summit County gathered in Green to discuss their follow-up efforts. Cover2 Resources, a not-for-profit founded to promote possible solutions to the opioid epidemic, moderated the meeting.

Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but at least 76 people have been contacted in Green, Cuyahoga Falls, Barberton and Norton, said Kimberly Patton, a staffer from Summit County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

The Akron Fire Department reported visiting 100 homes in eight weeks, but not having time to call at the same residence more than once.

Treubig helped start Quick Response Teams in six Summit communities. She said most of the people the teams encounter are subject to Ohio’s immunity law, which requires them to get a treatment assessment or be charged with felony drug possession after an overdose.

There were as many questions as answers at the meeting: Do you visit a home where someone has died? Who follows up when someone from Stow overdoses in Green or vice versa? How do you track people who are transient? How should teams integrate recovery coaches?

Treubig said she noticed individuals in addiction and police and firefighters were becoming more comfortable talking to each other.

“We’re starting to see some people two to three times around, which is a little tough,” she said, “but they know we’re there for them.”

Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: shooverREP