The opioid crisis is one of the most serious threats to public health in America since the crack/cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, there were 2,252 deaths associated with cocaine in 1988, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that around 66 percent of the more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid.
Florida, one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, serves as an example of what a collaborative relationship can look like when multiple organizations join forces to achieve a common goal. In April of this year, the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association (FADAA), Florida Hospital Association (FHA), Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, Congressman Gus Bilirakis and Senator Bill Nelson announced a new initiative in the hopes of strengthening connections between hospitals and community-based behavioral health programs.
One such program is All in for Florida: The Emergency Room Intervention Project, a peer-to-peer counseling program connecting individuals hospitalized for opioid overdoses with access to treatment services at that critical moment when intervention is possible.
TriplePundit sat down to talk with Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association, to learn more about the All in for Florida program. Rueben emphasized the impact on Florida, noting that from June 2016 to June 2017, 18,000 emergency room visits were caused by people overdosing on opioids. Out of those individuals, 78 percent were discharged to their homes, 12 percent left against the doctor’s medical advice, and only 10 percent were treated for overdose.
“With numbers this staggering, something had to be done,” Rueben said. “It’s overwhelming our emergency rooms and has some pretty significant unintended consequences. This is changing the quality of life in communities, and hospitals are the front line, so we are compelled to deal with it.”
All in for Florida uses a peer-to-peer model to address the concerns of opioid abuse: Many of the peer counselors have overcome addiction themselves. “Trained peer counselors are available in the emergency room so that when a patient is there, they can meet with them and talk with them about treatment programs to meet their specific needs,” Rueben added. The concept was first tested at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, where 450 overdose victims were treated in the ER over the course of the six-month pilot. Rueben notes that the program was “very successful” and has since expanded throughout the state of Florida.
FHA also understands that effective treatment is holistic. It can be argued that changes in the job market and the collapse of once bustling industries is driving a sense of hopelessness that has not been seen in this country in decades. Addiction is also deeply tied to mental health, and FHA hopes to address the whole person with their new program.
As caregivers, we look at this holistically from a caregiver perspective. We consider not only what we can do when a patient comes in, but what can we do to reduce the potential for this crisis to continue. We’re working at the state and federal level on policies, [on the] prescription and distribution of opioids, and alternate ways to effectively manage pain. We are promoting access to mental health services throughout Florida. We are looking to increase those resources to put more emphasis on mental health programs. We are working with community-based partners on mental health to try to leverage all of our efforts and resources.
Every community, family and person fighting opioid addiction faces a unique battle, which is why it’s imperative to look for local solutions to solve this national crisis. It takes resources to have an impact on an issue this large, and by setting aside such resources to fund treatment and find solutions for the over prescription of addictive opioids, health care companies can help to change the trajectory of this epidemic. The collaboration between the Aetna Foundation, FAADA and FHA gives us a solid example of what partnership and progress can look like when various sectors come together for positive change.