Addiction Treatment Programs in Boston Support Overdose Survivors

The Boston Medical Center (BMC) recently led a study that categorizes the different types of collaborative addiction treatment programs emerging across Massachusetts for overdose survivors.

The study focuses on addiction treatment programs that are the result of local first responders, police and fire departments working together with public health agencies to link people who had a drug overdose with harm reduction service providers, substance use disorder specialists and other resources.

Alex Walley, MD, MSc, an addiction medicine specialist at BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction and senior author of the study, explained that the idea for the study came from initiatives that have been launched through the state, such as the Angel Program by the Gloucester police department.

“We’ve been working to equip police and fire departments with naloxone kits,” he said. “In working with these programs, which we have been doing since 2011, we started to hear that [officers] were working with community outreach providers to do post-overdose outreach. They would get together on a weekly basis and visit the addresses where people had overdosed to talk to either the survivors or their family members. So, this was organically starting to happen. And there were other innovative models that we described and other ways that police officers or first responders work with treatment providers to improve access to care to care for people with addiction.”

To assess exactly how much public safety agencies in the state are doing to improve addiction treatment, Walley and his team sent surveys — regarding collaborations with local public health agencies — to fire and police departments in each of the 351 communities in Massachusetts.

More than 20 percent of the 110 public safety agencies that answered the survey were involved in implementing collaborations to provide community-based support or addiction treatment services to people who had overdosed and their connections.

The researchers then conducted phone interviews with representatives of those agencies and identified four distinct types of collaborative addiction treatment programs for overdose victims employed in the state.

The programs were: multi-disciplinary team visit, which involves public safety personnel and public health providers travelling together to the survivor shortly after the overdose occurred; police visit with referrals — police officers visit and provide an addiction treatment referral to the overdose survivors who are willing; clinician outreach — phone-based outreach by clinicians embedded in police departments who have the contact information of an overdose survivor or of a member of the survivor’s network; and location-based outreach, which encourages survivors and their connections to visit a community-based site to obtain information or services needed.

Walley explained that the innovative partnerships described in his study focus on overdose survivors because they’re particularly high-risk populations.

Alex Walley, MD, MSc, addiction medicine specialist at BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction

“The most surprising thing was that first responder’s agencies along with their community partners are taking the initiative and innovating to find new ways to address the overdose crisis,” he said. “I think they recognize that while educating people about overdose prevention and equipping the people who use drugs and public responders with naloxone is very important, it is not enough. We have to actually do more proactive outreach to people who are high-risk and people who have an overdose and survive, they’re the highest risk.”

Walley’s team delved into finding the common themes of the programs identified and found that… (continue reading)