Baltimore's new program: from overdose into treatment

Nov 06 2017

Baltimore’s new program: from overdose into treatment

The city of Baltimore, once dubbed America’s “Heroin Capital,” is trying a new program designed to get addicts who have overdosed into treatment.

The Overdose Survivors Outreach Program, which is the first of its kind in the U.S., uses peer recovery specialists assigned to hospital emergency departments to connect with and refer overdose patients to treatment and other services.
The Overdose Survivors Outreach Program uses peer support coaches assigned to hospital emergency departments to connect with overdose patients.

SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment) peer coaches, stationed in the hospital emergency department, deliver an “overdose-tailored” brief intervention to identified patients, and then connect them to a Community Outreach Peer. The Community Outreach Peer offers overdose prevention and education information, connects them to local treatment and/or recovery support services, and remains a consistent point of contact after discharge.

Peer recovery specialists are trained professionals who are themselves in long-term recovery. Research shows they are able to connect more easily with those they are serving, to help them in a crisis, assist their transition across levels of care, and provide ongoing, community support.

The ultimate goal of the Overdose Survivors Outreach Program is to keep patients alive regardless of whether they enter treatment, says Kathleen Rebbert Franklin, director of health promotion for Maryland Behavioral Health Administration. The length of stay in the program varies by individual, based on the specific needs of the patient.

The program was piloted in four Baltimore hospitals in 2016. (Mercy, Harbor, University of Maryland Medical Center, and Bon Secours) It will be expanded to five additional hospitals during fiscal year 2018, MedStar Union Memorial, MedStar Franklin Square, MedStar Good Samaritan, Johns Hopkins Bayview, and University of Maryland Midtown.

Officials have identified one “flaw” with the program and made changes, Rebbert-Franklin says. Originally, overdose patients had to sign a release form to be connected with peer coaches in the community. But, going forward, the peer coaches will be employed by the hospitals, eliminating the release form requirement.

“This is a learning experience for us, a pilot to test it out. Nobody else is doing it, but we are having terrific outcomes right now.”

State and city funding is financing the program, and the city is seeking additional funding sources, she says.
While still in its early stages, the program appears to be having a positive impact, Rebbert-Franklin told The Inflluence.  A survey of 67 patients referred to treatment from four hospital sites indicated that 34 patients entered treatment. (No data was collected on completion of treatment.)

Most of the patients referred for treatment are covered by Maryland’s Medicaid program, which was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, to cover both outpatient and residential treatment, Rebbert-Franklin says. “If a patient doesn’t have Medicaid, but meets the Medicaid criteria, we will sign them up.”

Maryland was one of the first states in the county to employ peer recovery specialists to help addicts get into recovery. There are currently 133 Certified Peer Recovery Specialist in the state with “many more” in the process of obtaining certification, according to Brittany Fowler spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health.