Iredell EMS, Health Department teaming up to help patients suffering with opioid addiction
BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell County Emergency Medical Services and the Health Department are working together to help individuals suffering from opioid addiction begin the recovery process.
The agencies recently received an $85,970 grant from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to help fund the effort.
EMS will use the grant funding to hire a peer-support specialist, a non-clinical worker tasked with providing a support system to those suffering from opioid abuse disorder.
The initiative also includes promoting awareness of resources, follow-ups, advocacy work, and providing training materials to encourage life-saving changes.
Norma Rife, director of public health development, explained that the peer-support piece is important because it allows for a relatable understanding of what the individual is going through.
The Iredell County Board of Commissioners approved funding for the peer support-specialist position during their November meeting. The recruitment and hiring process will begin in the near future, officials said.
Vice Chairman Tommy Bowles said “this the first step towards Paramedicine,” which he called the future of EMS.
“We’re excited about it,” said EMS Director Blair Richey, who explained that the grant will allow EMS personnel to take a new role on in the community.
“Right now, we are very reactive. We’re hoping this helps get us started in more of a proactive approach,” she explained.
According to Richey, the peer-support specialist will be able to reach out to those in nonfatal overdose situations and connect them with resources in the community.
“We can also use this as an opportunity to administer naloxone kits and help educate the family,” Richey said.
Naloxone is a drug used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.
Currently, EMS has naloxone kits that are left with anyone suffering from an opioid addiction.
In some cases, EMS goes into a home and naloxone has completely revived a patient, who is conscious and alert but refuses to go to the hospital. In those cases, EMS will provide an additional dose of naloxone, which has a short half-life.
Richey said there are documented cases where a patient has died 18 hours after taking naloxone.
When a patient refuses to go to the hospital, EMS personnel spend time educating the patient and family members – and provide a kit for future use.
“This wouldn’t be possible without the Health Department noticing the opportunity and being willing to partner with us. We are grateful to them,” Richey said.
EMS will continue to look for additional grants, she added.
By the Numbers
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that every dollar invested in efforts towards recovery yields a return of up to $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.
More than 12 million pills were dispensed in 2017 alone in Iredell County, according to the Drug-Alcohol Abuse Free Iredell Coalition. The group’s goal is to improve the quality of life in our community by working to prevent substance use though education, awareness and advocating for treatment and recovery services for those struggling with a substance use disorder.
In 2017, there were 566 medication or drug overdoses in Iredell County.