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Opioid Addiction

Clay First Responders Will Offer Medication-Assisted Therapy To Overdose Patients

Clay County first responders will be trained in offering medication-assisted therapy to overdose patients.
Clay County first responders will be trained in offering medication-assisted therapy to overdose patients.

Clay County has a higher rate of opioid overdoses than the state average, according to county health department officials. Young people in the county have a higher chance of using heroin, marijuana and other drugs. 

To combat the dangerous trend, the Clay County Health Department is partnering with Clay County Fire Rescue and Clay Behavioral Health Care to launch a program aimed at curbing the amount of overdoses.

A large aspect of the program is to have first responders offer medication-assisted therapy to people who they treat for opioid overdoses. 

“If the client wants those services, they will put them in place and there will be a warm handoff,” said Patricia Cepeda, the local health department’s director of community health services. 

Medication-assisted therapy combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapy, according to Cepeda. She said it reduces the need for inpatient detox services, increases retention in treatment, and decreases opioid use while enhancing a person’s chance to regain and maintain employment.

“It’s a stabilizer, essentially,” Cepeda said. 

Some of the funding for the program is going to training paramedics and firefighters to properly offer the extra services. 

“They're trained to fight fires and to respond to emergencies, but not necessarily emergencies or specific training for someone who is struggling with substance abuse,” Cepeda said. “So we really wanted to give them the tools for how to speak to someone who's going through that and leading clients where they're at being as non-judgmental as possible.”

Cepeda said she started training first responders late last week.

“We don't want to make them mental health experts, but they need to be able to take wisdom to talk to someone who's experiencing that specifically,” Cepeda said. 

If someone initially denies an offer to get extra help, the person can still contact the county health department to receive services at a later date. 

Cepeda said another part of the program is making sure any family or loved ones around the person who overdosed is trained to know what to do when that person is dealing with drug addiction. 

The other main aspect of the program will be focused on gathering stronger data to determine the main areas of concern in Clay County. 

“What happens to that client when we hand them over to the hospital?” said Cepeda. “What happens to that client if they receive services from a Clay Behavioral? We want to try and fill in some of the gaps.”

Other key data points that will be collected include location of the overdoses, time periods between overdoses, and demographics of the overdose victims. 

Data collection will be completed by all of the entities involved in the program. 

The county is getting federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control totalling roughly $300,000 per year until August of 2022.

Cepeda said the county was planning on rolling out the program earlier in the year, but plans were put on hold as the health department’s focus shifted on handling the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“People want help,” Cepeda said. “They want what's best for themselves. They want to improve their life, they truly do. And addiction really is a very, very powerful thing. So whenever we can do something to help someone be empowered, for them to make those positive changes in their life, rehabilitation-wise, that's what we want to do.” 

Clay County is also starting an Opioid Task Force with 15 community organizations throughout the county, which will hold an inaugural meeting on Wednesday, September 9.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

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