Jackson County’s Quick Response Team helps overdose survivors

Suzette Lowe
The Quick Response Team hands out this card with contact information.

When Amy Haskins had the opportunity to apply for a grant to help address the underlying issues of drug abuse in Jackson County, she had no idea the impact it would have on both those affected by drugs and the first responders who had to deal with the crisis.

Haskins, administrator of the Jackson County Health Department, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director Troy Bain had been brainstorming some ideas and approaches.

“We were trying to come up with a way to try to reverse the trend of overdoses we were seeing,” said Bain.

A grant opportunity, according to Haskins, just ‘dropped in my lap.’ The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered the county a way to target those who were overdosing on drugs.

Obtaining this grant allowed a Quick Response Team (QRT) to be established in Jackson County. The grant which runs from 2019-2021 provides $250,000 per year to pay for Narcan supplies and a QRT coordinator. The team is comprised of the coordinator, a paramedic, an EMT, a member of law enforcement and a faith-based representative.

Steve McClure, former Jackson County EMS director, was hired for the coordinator’s position. As a civilian employee of EMS, he can coordinate and share information easily. When a drug overdose is reported, McClure knows the name, but the health department just receives an identifying number.

“This makes it much easier for me to get a team visit set up with the person who has survived the overdose,” McClure said.

The ‘quick’ in QRT misidentifies the way the program works, said McClure.

“We are not the ones rushing to the overdose incident and administering the Narcan that reverses the effects of the opioids,” he said.

McClure said the team’s objective is to get the Narcan into the hands of those who need it most. Education of family members and the public is the heart of the QRT program.

QRT Coordinator Steve McClure provides Narcan training at the BoMar Club and Drop-in Center.

Once the person needing help is identified from EMS overdose runs, McClure investigates and determines if a visit needs arranged.

“We wait until the person is somewhat recovered from the incident,” he said. “Thursdays are usually the team’s visit day.”

The point of the visit is not to intimidate or antagonize the individual. As McClure explains it, QRT offers a toolbox.

“We simply tell the person and any family member that we’re there to help,” he said. “Our ‘toolbox’ contains all kinds of resources that can help them break their addiction. We can get them into a treatment program immediately. We’ve made sure there is a spot open at a facility if they want to take advantage of it.”

The ability to use the Narcan nasal spray is an important component of the QRT program.

McClure said it is often the family or friends of the addict that go through the training required before being provided this medication that counters the effect of the opioid overdose. Training for the public will also be offered at various times.

“Parents, grandparents, spouses don’t want to see their loved one die from an overdose,” said McClure. “Giving them the education and means to, in effect, bring someone back gives that person an opportunity to get help.”

For Bain, another important component in the QRT program is the chance to help his employees deal with ‘compassion fatigue.’

“To be honest, it’s very hard to go to multiple overdose situations,” he said. “When it’s the same people over and over, it becomes even more difficult.”

That is where recovery coach training comes into play.

Bain explained this education, in its simplest form, helps his first responders learn to talk to people, to ask the right questions.

“Many of our people become jaded when it comes to the drug issue,” he said. “Compassion fatigue is one way to explain it.”

For EMT Ashley Davis and paramedic Joseph Kent, the training changed their entire perspective. Both have volunteered to be on the quick response team.

Kent said his entire mindset changed after he became a recovery coach.

“I’ll admit sometimes my thought would be ‘it’s just an overdose,’” he said. “Now I immediately say we’ve got to help. Kids are often in the home of the person that we are dealing with and, well, kids just should not have to see that. We’ve got to change the community.”

For Davis, it is even more personal.

“I had a cousin die of an overdose,” she said. “I know the effect it has on the family. If this QRT saves one life, alters one addict’s path, a change can be made in this county.”

This change in attitude was a goal that Haskins wanted to meet.

“Troy and I have had long conversations about the traumatization dealing with substance abuse can cause first responders,” said Haskins. “Not everyone has the same skills to deal with these situations. This training can help with that.”

As for those dealing with substance use disorders, Bain said, “That person is someone’s child, spouse, parent. We need to remember that.”

In the short time the program has been active, McClure said there has been success.

“One parent contacted me about her daughter who was heading towards serious trouble,” he said. “We reached out to her and got her into treatment. She is doing well. Recently, after a few visits, another took those first baby steps toward recovery. We are making a difference.”

Haskins said that she has applied to SAMHSA to renew the grant for another two years.

“So many times, people get into drugs because they see no other way,” McClure said. “We can show them another way, but they have to want to fix themselves. We have the toolbox to help them and that’s all we want to do.”

A Narcan training that is open to the public will take place at the BoMar Club and Drop-in Center on Monday, April 19, at 4 p.m. Pre-registration is required by calling 304-372-3722.

For information about the QRT or to request help, contact McClure at 304-531-6773, email jacksoncountyqrt@gmail.com or visit Jackson County QRT on Facebook.