Hamilton County reworks overdose response


Hamilton County’s Community Opioid Prevention Effort has launched a quick response team, a new approach to aiding members of the community battling addiction, specifically those revived from an overdose.

Local leaders and first responders gathered at a March 11 press conference at the Hamilton County Courthouse to announce the initiative.

“We hope to reduce opioid abuse, provide resources to patients that have experienced an opioid overdose and ultimately give them the treatment services needed for their recovery,” said Monica Greer, executive director of the Hamilton County Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs.

Effective immediately, the C.O.P.E. Quick Response Team will initiate contact with overdose survivors within 24 to 48 hours of emergency treatment. A peer recovery specialist and team of health professionals will visit the individual to assess overall health and connect them with recovery options. The team also will provide family members with a Narcan kit and training.

“I am so pleased to see these communities begin to address this from a prevention standpoint,” Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said. “The hard part about prevention is it’s not very sexy. It doesn’t make the front page news. But the good news is that it works.”

Whether illegal or prescribed, the misuse of opioid drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and hydrocodone, among others, can be deadly because they affect the brain’s ability to regulate breathing.

Although Hamilton County is among the wealthiest counties in Indiana, its residents are not immune to the effects of the nationwide opioid epidemic. The county had 38 confirmed overdose deaths in 2018 and 459 overdose calls to 911 dispatch.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said part of being a top-notch city is ensuring all community members are provided the best services available.

“Addressing the various issues that come with opioid addiction will help all members of our community stay safer,” Brainard said.

The Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addictions awarded grants of $50,000 each to the Carmel and Westfield fire departments, chosen because of their existing integrated health programs. The Bureau of Justice Assistance also awarded a countywide grant  of $490,343 to expand the response team to the rest of Hamilton County in 2019.

C.O.P.E.’s lynchpin is its connection to ASPIRE, a fully integrated health system that offers both health and social services and addresses behavioral health, primary care, substance-use disorders and more.

Barbara Scott, president and CEO of ASPIRE, said although the company employs physicians, psychologists, social workers and other professionals, research shows the best person to engage those experiencing addiction is someone who has been through it.

C.O.P.E. Peer Recovery Specialist Ann Skinner plans to fill that role when establishing contact with overdose survivors. She said she has different legal boundaries than a physician or social worker.

“I can relate and tell someone my story,” Skinner said.

Sgt. Billy Adams of the Westfield Police Dept. said the department wants people experiencing addiction to know the police are there to help and not always to arrest them.

“We’re starting to learn that with the opioid epidemic being as unique as it is, the traditional tough love approach of arrest and re-arrest is not always the answer and it’s not always working,” Adams said.

Bruce Frost, mobile integrated health coordinator for the Carmel Fire Dept. and coordinator of Carmel’s C.O.P.E. Quick Response Team, said the county plans to delay drug-related charges for those willing to enter the program. If they complete the program, it can be a mitigating factor in sentencing.

“The (police) are there primarily for protection,” Frost said. “We did not want (this program) to be punitive.”