One of the newest, grassroots efforts to prevent fatal opiate overdoses is the Safe Station program, now underway at a handful of locales on the East Coast. Drug users who need medical attention, or a referral to get help for their habit, can stop in police and fire stations, 24 hours a day, without fear of arrest.
Anne Arundel County, Md. has 38 police and fire stations providing help to drug users, as part of the Safe Stations program it launched last April, according to Jennifer Corbin, director of the county’s Crisis Response Team.
Corbin said county officials got the idea for Safe Stations from a similar effort in Massachusetts, the Police-Assisted Addiction Recovery Institute (PAARI). Getting the county’s fire stations involved “has made access easier,” Corbin told The Influence.
Similar programs are also underway in other cities, including Providence, R.I., Manchester, N.H., and Lake County, Ill.,
Since the Anne Arundel County launched its Safe Stations program last April, the county has recorded more than 480 unduplicated visits from people seeking help. Officials estimate the program’s success rate at getting addicts into treatment at 58 percent. “They key is people are coming in because they are ready to get help,” Corbin said. About 10 percent of the people served by the program have been residents of other counties.
Other officials who helped put the program together included Fire Chief Alan Graves, Police Chief Tim Altomare, Sheriff Ron Bateman and Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who lost a family member to an opioid overdose.
Safe Stations was launched as opioid and heroin overdoses spiked in Anne Arundel County, which recorded a record number of opiate overdoses in 2017, an estimated 152. County officials knew they had to take action, Corbin said.
“We were all thinking, what if they came to us?” Corbin said. “We were desperate to do something. Now we’re seeing people reach out on their own terms. I placed someone yesterday who had OD’d 11 times,” she told the Washington Post.
When a drug user arrives at a Safe Station, they receive a medical assessment by Corbin’s Crisis Response Team. If they’re concerned the person has a medical issue, they are transported to an appropriate medical facility. The Crisis Response Team will communicate with the hospital staff to ensure there is a “handoff” from the medical facility back to Crisis Response.
If no immediate medical issue is identified, the county’s “Warmline” is contacted (the Crisis Response Team’s phone number, answered 24/7) and advised that there is a Safe Station case. The county’s Crisis Response team will work closely with the individual in the station to determine the best resources and destination available.
Individuals seeking assistance are required to drop any needles and paraphernalia into a sharps collection container located at each station. If an individual is carrying illegal substances, the appropriate police agency will be notified for disposal purposes only.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams’ office is notified if the person has any outstanding warrants or court dates that would prevent admittance to treatment. To guide them through the process, each client is assigned a “care coordinator” who helps admit them to a detox center or access other resources. Medicaid and grants help people who don’t have insurance, Corbin said.
The program was initially funded from general funds from each department; the county has since received a $287,000 state grant to hire more people. Part of the funding comes from the federal 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress last year.