Monongalia County ranks fifth for opioid overdose deaths in West Virginia, according to the county health department.
"But the reality is that no one has the complete picture," said Lee Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer.
County officials are hoping to reverse the opioid overdose trend locally and throughout West Virginia—which leads the nation in opioid overdoses—with its Quick Response Team, a consortium of county health department employees, first responders, law enforcement personnel and peer recovery coaches.
The QRT team is funded with a $230,000 grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health and has been meeting weekly since May. Smith said the county health department will apply for additional funding from the state later this year.
Part of the grant money has been used to hire a data analyst and a QRT coordinator to contract peer recovery coaches, to compensate for data sharing regarding overdoses and for epidemiology work.
From January to May, MECCA 911 dispatched EMS to treat an average of 46 people a month for non-fatal overdoses. And through August of this year, 20 non-fatal overdoses were treated monthly in county emergency departments, the health department said.
"We want to make sure that people at high risk for an overdose get support," Smith said. "Our basic tenant is that high-risk individuals will have an intervention within 72 hours or sooner if circumstances warrant."
The 72-hour time frame is specified in the state grant and it is hoped during that time the person who overdosed will accept help.
"Even if a person isn't ready to go into treatment at that time, we can offer assistance that can mitigate their health risks now and then be available to help them down the road when they are ready," Jon Dower, director of operations for West Virginia Sober Living, one of the QRT members, said.
Team members are being asked to develop strategies for intervention and prevention of drug use and overdoses. Topics discussed at the weekly meetings include drugs found on the streets, usage patterns, agencies involved and how to connect people with services such as counseling, harm reduction, disease testing, family planning and naloxone—Narcan—used to reverse opioid effects.
QRT participants also include the Monongalia Sheriff's Department, Granville Police Department, Star City Fire & EMS, Pierpont Landing Pharmacy, MECCA 911, WVU University Police, the Morgantown Police Department and WV PEERS. Smith said infectious disease physicians, a local pharmacist, faith leaders and community members have also made contributions.
"Look at what has happened in this state," Smith said. "You can't arrest or legislate your way out. This is a disease."
QRT teams are also in Charleston and Huntington, considered Ground Zero for the state's opioid crisis.