York County hopes to help addicts from OD to recovery

Katherine Ranzenberger
  • The warm hand-off program should be up and running by the end of October, officials say.
  • Doctors and others are worried about the lack of recovery resources available in York County.
  • White Deer Run should be expanding the facility soon.

May 7, 2015, was the last time Sean Allen was revived by Narcan.

It took two rounds of the heroin and opioid overdose reversal drug, generically known as naloxone, to get the 34-year-old York man back.

"I realized it was getting out of hand," he said. "I shot up one last time and started to go to the state parole office. I guess I OD'd while I was driving to turn myself in. They found me in a ditch in my car behind the office."

When a person overdoses on heroin, police and EMS carry naloxone they can administer to reverse the drug's effects.

Sean Allen stands with his 8-year-old niece, Jada Thran, on his shoulders. The moment wouldn't have been possible without Narcan, an overdose reversal drug. (Courtesy, Sean Allen)

After being brought out of an overdose, though, people have the right to refuse treatment. Members of the York County Heroin Task Force, the York/Adams County Drug and Alcohol Commission and local law enforcement want to encourage such people to reach out and get help.

To that end, local officials are working to start a "warm hand-off" program.

"The idea of the warm hand-off is while they're with police, someone can be contacted and meet with this individual to advocate for their treatment needs," said Steve Warren, county administrator with the York/Adams County Drug and Alcohol Commission. "This is a relatively new program that's being rolled out across Pennsylvania."

The new program in York and Adams counties will be led by the RASE Project, a nonprofit organization based in Harrisburg. The RASE Project is run entirely by staff and volunteers from the recovery community, or those who have been through the same addiction the overdose survivors are fighting.

Warren said a volunteer from RASE would be called to convince someone who has overdosed into getting the help they need. Volunteers talk to people in their homes or at the hospital, where the person was revived or treatment was started.

"That person is very vulnerable right after an overdose," he said. "We're hoping the individual will be willing to meet with the RASE volunteer and seek help and treatment for their addiction."

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Allen said he thinks if someone who had been through a similar experience had talked to him when he was still in the hospital, he would have listened.

"I'm stubborn, so I had to learn the hard way," he said. "I'm glad I have a good support system around me now. We keep each other motivated to stay clean. I don't even feel like using."

However, WellSpan York Hospital emergency physician Dr. Erik Kochert said he is concerned that even if people get the proper information, there aren't enough resources to help all of the people who overdose.


"To motivate change, it's a process," he said. "It's going to be a helpful thing. Unless we increase the amount of resources available, we hand them off to whom?"

Kochert said it's not uncommon to see multiple overdose patients who have been revived by naloxone during an eight-hour shift. A lot of time is spent with those patients, observing their vital signs.

He said he spends time during the observation of patients educating them about the good Samaritan laws in place, which would protect the person from getting into trouble if someone around them overdoses. Kochert also makes sure the patients know about the standing prescription in place for naloxone at all Pennsylvania pharmacies.

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But he added it's extremely rare for overdose patients to ask for treatment options right away.

"It's a part of the disease," Kochert said. "It's substance abuse."

These sentiments about a lack of resources were echoed by Alyssa Rohrbaugh, a member of Not One More, a group that works to stop heroin overdoses in the community through education. Rohrbaugh said there aren't enough rehabilitation centers or recovery homes for people to really get help.

"The rehabs are polluted," she said. "Unless you have private insurance, you might not get in."

RASE received a $275,000 grant from the county to assist with the program in York and Adams counties' four hospitals. Doctors in the emergency departments call RASE when an overdose patient comes into their hospital, Warren said.

York County was one of the counties to receive funding from the state to expand treatment centers, which Warren said will be used to expand the White Deer Run facility from seven detox beds and 16 rehabilitation beds to 21 detox beds and 48 to 50 rehabilitation beds.

The York/Adams County Drug and Alcohol Commission should have the warm hand-off program fully running by the end of October, according to the timeline Warren and others have set.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine