Mon County Health Department puts new "QRT" program to work

MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) -- Monongalia County ranks 5th in the state in unintentional opioid overdose deaths.

But now, the health department has a program that they hope will help bring down that ranking, as well as help those struggling with opioid addiction.

The department was given a $230,000 grant back in May that has funded their new "Quick Response Team" or simply, "QRT".

"The object is to keep people alive until they can get into rehab," explained Mon County Health Department Executive director and county health officer, Dr. Lee B. Smith.

The "QRT" program in simpler teams, is kind of like a buddy system.

"The idea is to have one of the peer recovery coaches get involved with this individual," said Dr. Smith.

These peer recovery coaches are people who have struggled with substance abuse in the past, but are now in recovery.

The recovery coaches form alliances and develop trust with those who have overdosed and make sure they are safe. They also make sure they have resources available should they overdose again.

Dr. Smith said those who struggle with substance abuse, most of the time do not want professional help.

"If you are a person with a substance abuse disorder, you're trying to get off of the radar, you don't want to involve yourself with law enforcement or even EMS...anybody in uniform...not highly trusted," said Dr. Smith

Dr Smith said people in recovery feel more comfortable with those who can relate to their situation, thus why the "QRT" recovery coaches are the perfect candidates for the job.

"Only with this team approach can you really expect to make any indentation. You know if I go out there I don't have any street credibility with these people, you know I haven't lived the life, they don't trust me."

Another goal for the "QRT" is to let the individuals know that rehabilitation is always an option.

"Make sure that they understand that they can go into rehabilitation, but there are also other factors within the harm reduction community that they can avail themselves to," Dr. Smith said.

But it's something that they must decide for themselves.

"Not everybody is immediately ready to say 'gee I've seen the error in my ways I'd like to change my lifestyle now', so they may interact with them months or weeks later and say 'ya know I remember when you helped me out there and I think maybe I'm ready to talk to you about rehabilitation," Dr. Smith pointed out.

Dr. Smith says he at least hopes the Quick Response Team is a small step in the right direction to combat the opioid epidemic

"What we do now is going to impact us for years to come," said Dr. Smith.

The department's grant will end November 31st of this year.

However, they have been told by the state's Department of Health and Human Resources that another will soon follow so they may continue the program and possibly incorporate it into other health departments.