By AL Vineyard for Drug Free Ozarks
In 2020, the Taney County Ambulance District (TCAD) team responded to 295 overdoses. Of those, 193 were opioid overdoses.
It’s not uncommon for TCAD staff to care for the same overdose patient more than once. In an effort to combat recurring opioid overdoses while spreading recovery awareness, education, and hope, the TCAD team has partnered with the EPICC (Engaging Patients in Care Coordination) program.
EPICC was launched in 2016 in St. Louis. Since inception, it has spread to many parts of the state, arriving in the southwest region of Missouri in December 2019. Statewide, EPICC is assisting more than 9,000 clients.
EPICC is staffed with Peer Recovery Coaches. The coaches are individuals in long-term recovery from substance use disorders. They meet the patient where they are and walk alongside them through the recovery process.
Peer Recovery Coaches help individuals suffering from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and their families learn about long-term recovery and treatments, including Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), structured sober living, and inpatient treatment. Coaches motivate and encourage those with OUD, while connecting them with resources. Ideally, coaches, who have lived experience, can assist others along a journey to recovery.
Ralph Begay is someone who struggled with a substance-use disorder which led to felony charges. Now, four years into long-term recovery, he gives back to his community by participating in EPICC, helping others find their path to recovery. While the EPICC program was not available to him in the beginning of his recovery, Begay started with an accountability team through his county’s treatment court, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and still has an accountability team today. He continues to work his program one day at a time. His transformation is inspiring and shows others that recovery is possible.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, EPICC staff were permitted to enter hospital emergency rooms to connect with overdose patients. However, with new guidelines put into place immediately following the pandemic’s onset, visitors have been greatly limited.
Still, it is important for individuals with substance use disorders to be connected with other people who have experienced different stages of recovery.
Recognizing this, TCAD has teamed up with EPICC to provide overdose patients with information about the program and get them connected to Peer Recovery Coaches.
TCAD Deputy Chief Jeff Hawkins witnesses the effects of OUD almost daily. Each emergency vehicle is equipped with lifesaving Narcan and a leave-behind Narcan kit is given to the patient or the patient’s family or friends.
Saving people from an overdose is only part of the battle.
Collaborating with EPICC provides another avenue for combating the overdose before it occurs again.
TCAD’s main role with EPICC is to get the information to the people who need it and provide referrals. TCAD staff are equipped with brochures, phone numbers, and resource information in the Narcan leave-behind kits.
If the person is not ready to get help, emergency personnel try to encourage the person to take the brochure.
If the person is receptive to help, emergency personnel gives them the literature and helps them get in touch with a Peer Recovery Coach, like Begay, who is always eager to help.
Hawkins believes that seeing the positive effects of the collaboration with the EPICC program and seeing success stories like Begay’s are great ways to combat compassion fatigue for these heroes who save lives every day.
“We’re here to help and we want to be out there,” Begay said. “We can help and are available 24/7.”
To make a referral to the EPICC program, call Burrell Behavioral Health’s 24/7 crisis line at 800-894-7355. Referrals may come from anyone – friends, family, or even emergency personnel.