Franklin team helping people, families struggling with opioids

Franklin’s new HOPE outreach program has been busy since it started on March 1 to help people with substance abuse to find treatment after an overdose.

The program, Helping Overdose through Prevention & Education, is the city’s quick response team consisting of a Franklin Fire & EMS paramedic, a Franklin police officer, and an addiction specialist, whose work begins after someone overdoses.

Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said the team is there to help give a person a safe and supportive path toward treatment and recovery. City officials took more than a year to research how to develop its team and announced the project last October in its fight to combat the opioid epidemic.

“Since we started on March 1, we’ve been making weekly visits in following up with patients,” he said. “The response has been tremendous.”

It’s a program already being utilized in Middletown, Hamilton, Dayton and Colerain Twp. and seeing successful results in battling the opioid epidemic. In addition, the department is trading notes with Middletown and the Dayton GROW program.

He said the Franklin program received a $30,000 grant from the Warren County Health Department to develop a community plan as a model for future quick response teams in Warren County. Currently, Franklin is working with entities in Franklin and Clearcreek townships. Warren County Mental Health also provided a grant to print the information pamphlets that paramedics pass on to the patients.

“We want to work out the bugs before rolling it out to other Warren County communities,” Westendorf said.

MORE: In heroin fight, Middletown ‘heading in right direction.’ Here’s what residents did to make one leader say that. 

Shortly after someone is found to have overdosed on an opioid drug and revived by paramedics with Narcan, the team will contact the patient and family to help them find treatment. A pamphlet with information on the types of treatment available, common signs of drug abuse, hotlines and various treatment programs and facilities is shared with patient.

Westendorf said this type of program is important because overdoses cross jurisdictional lines and it’s critical to get resource information communicated to the patients and their families. He said some are afraid of possible criminal prosecution but said the program will work with healthcare providers and with court and probation officials. Westendorf said the next step will be to bring in faith-based groups to participate.

The program has been designated by the Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) to eventually provide Naloxone kits for those patients who are not ready to seek treatment. Westendorf said the kits have been ordered, but not delivered yet. The program is funded by area and state grants.

Lt. Katie Williams, the program’s coordinator, said they will do whatever it takes to help people find beds in regional treatment facilities or connect to a treatment provider and other resources.

MORE: The overdose epidemic comes at a massive cost. In Middletown, it’s millions.

“It’s been well received,” Williams said. “There have been a lot of tears because many patients felt that nobody cared about them until now and because the system is hard to navigate.”

Williams said the call volume for overdoses started to decrease last July (2017) but began to steadily increase in February this year with April and May being our busiest months since last summer.

She said the has had one confirmed death this year, but the results are pending on some other cases.

As a snapshot, from May 1 to May 10, Franklin paramedics used Narcan on three patients. A year later from May 1 to May 10, they have used Narcan in more than five instances.

Westendorf said that 24 percent of the patients they come in contact with are repeat overdose contacts.

Since the HOPE program started with the pamphlets and follow up visits by the team following an overdose, Westendorf this is reinforcing the idea that people are paying attention because there is more awareness that someone cares. It also helps the patient and their family to re-engage.

In addition to the current partnerships the Franklin HOPE program has developed, Williams said they are developing partnerships with Middletown and with Atrium Medical Center.

While Franklin is working to combat the opioid epidemic, Westendorf said things are transitioning to methamphetamines as that is being mixed into the opioids being abused.

“It’s not easy to bring people out of it,” Westendorf said. “It poses more risks to the patients and the EMS crew.”

Westendorf said its a long term process to overcome substance abuse addiction no matter what drug was used. He said among the challenges they face is an average addict will have six to eight relapses as they go through recovery, according to research.

“This isn’t a 12-step program,” he said. “They need to get into a rehabilitation program and understand this is a long-term commitment.”

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