Helping addicts beyond the overdose, how ATCEMS will seek long-term opioid recovery

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new pilot program in Travis County will help opioid overdose survivors seek long-term recovery and support for their addiction.

The program gives Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service first responders the tools to help addicts beyond the initial overdose call.

“Helping overdose survivors develop a plan for ongoing treatment and recovery will lower their risk for relapsing,” said Sonja Gaines, HHS deputy executive commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services.

The ATCEMS opioid response team will be given new methods of treatment to patients, access to prevention education and connections to peer recovery groups. Recovering addicts will also be hired to join the team to act as peer coaches.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission launched a similar program in Williamson County back in April 2018. Since then, “teams conducted 53 overdose rescue classes for hundreds of participants, connected 94 patients to medical care, intensive care management, and peer recovery services.”

KXAN spoke to one of those patients, Amanda Grubb, a recovering addict who was saved by the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team.

Four months ago, she overdosed in a hotel. For the previous 14 years, Grubb had been in a cycle of relapsing from alcohol, pills, heroine and meth.

“It got really bad toward the end,” Grubb said.

The day after her overdose, Grubb received a call from the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team. They continued to check in, provide food, shelter and support services.

“Those times that I did want to reach out or get help, I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know which step to take,” Grubb said. “I believe there are many people out there struggling and it would be wonderful to get the word out there and have the resources out there to help.”

The success of the Williamson County pilot has led to a similarly-structured push in Austin-Travis County. Travis County has among the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in Texas, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

ATCEMS medics and peer coaches will continually check-in to hold patients accountable, thereby reducing the number of relapses.

“Our primary goals are to connect them to treatment and get them medical and social support services,” said Commander Blake Hardy with the ATCEMS. “Getting them established in treatment, finding a treatment plan that works for them to be successful and staying engaged with them certainly helps us reduce the likelihood that we see them again as patients.”

Grubb is doing much better now. She is four months sober and is launching her own all-women’s sober house. Ultimately, she said its up to the patients to seek the change they want to see in their lives.

“Make that phone call. Take that first step. Because it is rewarding and it will pay off,” Grubb said.

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