As the opioid epidemic continues to surge, communities across the country continue to struggle with finding ways to reduce fatal opioid overdoses and increase access to support services and treatment options for persons struggling with opioid addiction.
In Litchfield County, Connecticut, a rural county in the northwest corner of the state, Trek Medics recently began an exciting new collaboration with the Litchfield County Opiate Task Force (LCOTF) that is already demonstrating early success.
LCOTF has been at the forefront of the state’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic since its formation in December 2013, after a high number of shared clients died from opioid overdoses over a 10-day span.
The Task Force has since focused their work on four essential goals:
- Improving access to care
- Enhancing collaboration and data sharing
- Reducing opioid use and misuse in the community, and
- Sharing information and resources about addiction, prevention, safety, and treatment
LCOTF is led by co-chairs of the McCall Center for Behavioral Health and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, and has more than 60 active members from all sectors in the community.
As Lauren Pristo, Network Coordinator for the LCOTF shared, “While LCOTF has a very large and dedicated member base, our rural care system is under-resourced, so this means we have to continually be trying to come up with creative ways to maximize our resources — in particular, maximizing the time and expertise of all our staff and volunteers.”
One of the tools that LCOTF has been using is the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) “which provides near real-time suspected overdose surveillance data across jurisdictions to support public safety and public health efforts to mobilize an immediate response to a sudden increase, or spike in overdose events.”
The problem with data, however, is that it’s only as good as what you can do with it, and in the case of LCOTF, they had difficulty making that data actionable across all their member agencies. Previously, when an ODMAP spike alert was sent out to LCOTF members, it was Pristo’s job to coordinate their response efforts. This included calling up volunteers to see who was available, arranging a time and place for volunteers to meet, and then tracking their activities via text message, phone call or email as they traveled to local overdose hot spots. Once at the distribution hubs, the LCOTF volunteers hand out narcan kits and other harm reduction supplies and information in order to try and prevent more overdoses from happening while also help people struggling with addiction to get access to support and treatment services. But this process soon proved to be very inefficient. The frequency of spike alerts sent out by ODMAP was increasing and things got even more complicated when they came out in the middle of the night.
Fortunately, one of Trek Medics’ existing partners, Mark Jenkins from the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, who has been using the Beacon dispatch platform to respond to active opioid overdoses in Hartford since early 2020, learned about LCOTF’s efforts and made the introduction, thinking Beacon might be able to help LCOTF coordinate their volunteers more efficiently.
It didn’t take very long to begin to see results.
In early July 2021, one day after officially launching our collaborative program, Pristo got an ODMAP Spike Alert in her inbox, providing data on multiple overdoses that had happened in Litchfield County over the past 24 hours. Taking the detailed data from the ODMAP Spike Alert, Pristo entered the information into Beacon and sent it out as an incident alert to more than 25 LCOTF volunteers included in the first phase of the collaboration.
In just six minutes, an LCOTF volunteer replied to the incident alert through the Beacon mobile app and was assigned to the incident. 11 minutes later, the volunteer arrived at the designated hot spot where they were able to distribute narcan kits to persons at high-risk of overdosing, including doses of nasal narcan, face shields, gloves, instructions on using narcan to reverse overdoses, fentanyl test strips, and information on support services and treatment options available across Litchfield County. The volunteer was also able to meet with the family members of one of the overdose victims and provide them with additional narcan and supplies while also discussing with them more in-depth about available support services.
“It only took one day and we’re already seeing the success of this collaboration,” Pristo said. “The Beacon app is making it a lot easier for us to communicate across agencies and mobilize our resources quickly when ODMAP Spike Alerts come in, and we’re confident it’s going to help us maximize the reach and impact of the limited resources we have.”