Plymouth County, Massachusetts had a problem. A big one, no different than most other areas of the country, but getting worse by the day.
The problem wasn’t just that the opioid epidemic was devastating the community. It was that the community wasn’t collaborating on how to address this complex health crisis.
Thus began Plymouth County Outreach (PCO), an effort to break the silo mentality amongst different parts of the community and create a titanic shift in how departments coordinated to battle the opioid epidemic.
(Pictured: PCO collected 84 lbs. of medications for Drug Take Back Day on April 27, 2019. From l-r: Officer Drew Carney, Chief Botieri, PCO coordinator Vicky Butler, Shannon deMille, and Recovery Coach Sloane Fernez.)
The result was a groundbreaking collaboration which includes the District Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Department, all 27 police departments, five major hospitals, recovery coaches, the Department of Children and Families, District Court Probation, PAARI (the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative), as well as community and faith-based coalitions.
PCO has created such a successful model that PCO’s leaders are regularly asked to speak in other parts of the state so that they can train other communities to follow suit.
What did Plymouth County do differently?
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“How can we help these people?”
Back in 2016, two Plymouth County Chief of Police Officers, in Plymouth and East Bridgewater, were stumped about how to stem the tide of opioid overdoses amongst residents and nurture people through a path of recovery. The challenge, they realized, required far better coordination amongst the different parts of the community.
How could they all work together to make sure that people suffering from addiction received the right help at the right time? How could they make sure that people stopped slipping through cracks in the system so they had the support they needed to achieve and maintain recovery from a disease that is chronic and relapsing?
The first step, they agreed, required better education about how to help patients suffering from substance use disorder. And then they needed to better track who needed help and connect them with the best services for their needs.
What this meant was that providers, specialists, and other people providing resources in Plymouth County would need to think of the patient first and their own businesses second. Could Plymouth County create a network of sometimes competing organizations who would work hand in hand for the greater good of its residents in need?
That was the premise of PCO as it became developed through the Public Safety, Community Coalition, and the Faith Based Subcommittees of the Plymouth County Drug Abuse Task Force.
PCO’s leaders decided that its focus should be twofold: overdose follow-up and community drop in centers. PCO created a database so that whenever a resident overdosed, the incident was entered into the system and immediately prompted a response from PCO.
If the person who overdosed was already enrolled in a treatment program, a follow-up wasn’t warranted. But if a follow-up was appropriate, a recovery coach and plainclothes officer would visit the person’s home and speak to his family members; ideally, they would also speak directly to the person who overdosed and offer assistance. The coach and officer would then guide the family and/or person on the resources that are available and how they could all embark on a path to recovery.
As a part of the PCO effort, local providers coordinated on creating drop-in centers so that anyone who wanted help would have a place to go to start their recovery journey or get back on track, no strings attached. Every other week for one day, between the hours of 5pm and 8:30pm, drop-in centers open their doors to anyone who wants to walk in.
Because PCO is now tracking the people who need help and the resources deployed to those people, the organization has been able to reach 60% of the people who have overdosed in the county over the last year.
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"Silos Don't Exist Here"
I have more than 15 years of experience in the recovery field and sit on the board of PCO. Never in my career have I seen anything like PCO; a community of different stakeholders who are united in their tremendous sense of dedication to help people in crisis. Each person I meet - from healthcare providers to law enforcement - is remarkably caring, moving mountains to break down boundaries, stamp out stigma, and increase access to care.
Each part of this community has a different lens on the battle being waged in our backyards. Separately, we can only attack one small piece of the opioid monster; the complexity of this epidemic can feel overwhelming. But together, we are able to solve problems, create solutions, and feel a sense of real progress and hope.
As East Bridgewater Police Chief Scott Allen noted at a recent “Power of Partnership” conference, “Silos don’t exist here in Plymouth County. They’re all intertwined.”
(Pictured: Leaders from PCO)
When someone walks in to CleanSlate, the outpatient treatment center where I work, and needs - for example - a men’s sober-living house right away, I can pop a text into my phone and immediately get responses from the PCO network of support.
This community of PCO leaders all help each other; we even schedule time to have dinners together. Competition isn’t a relevant word in PCO; the relationship we share is completely collaborative.
The reason that PCO is so successful is that we all know that each patient’s journey is unique. Recovery is not a one-size fits all proposition, and each of us can help patients in slightly different ways.
“Each number is a life,” Allen said at the recent conference. “The numbers are still unacceptable. Until we get that number to zero, we have a lot of work to do.”
Our business at PCO is not our individual businesses. Our business is to save lives, period. Whatever that takes.
And that's a playbook worth sharing.
CleanSlate treats patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction with medications and a continuum of care to support each individual's journey to recovery. If you or someone you love needs help, contact us at 833-505-HOPE, or visit our website at www.cleanslatecenters.com to find the center nearest you.
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