Recovery "On Call" In the Emergency Room

Jul 23, 2014

A new program aims to connect people who have accidentally overdosed on opioids with addiction treatment – before they leave the emergency room. The state’s largest nonprofit mental health service organization, The Providence Center, is providing what it calls “recovery coaches” to Kent Hospital through a program called AnchorED.

The coaches are on call all weekend, from Friday evening through Monday morning (when overdose admissions tend to spike), and can meet with patients to let them know about addiction treatments and how to prevent another overdose. The Providence Center spokesman Garry Bliss says the coaches offer help to busy hospital staff.

“The doctors and the nurses and the other caregivers, they do not want to see these folks again," said Bliss.  "They would really like to see them on the road to recovery. And they realize by making this connection possible, there’s an increased likelihood that will happen.”

The on-call recovery coaches are in recovery from addiction themselves and have special training. The pilot program will be rolling out to Memorial Hospital and other emergency departments in the state.

The program is reminiscent of how the twelve step organization Alcoholics Anonymous got started. Its co-founders used to get calls from doctors, asking them to visit alcoholics they were treating in the hospital, back in the 1930s. Back then, some doctors thought alcoholics were beyond help. But they'd heard about these two fellows having some success by sharing their experiences with other alcoholics and showing them how they, themselves, had gotten sober.

There's another program underway in the state, by the way, that links doctors - primary care physicians, for example - with addiction experts via phone. It's supposed to help doctors connect patients they believe have a substance abuse problem with treatment, right then and there.

That link, the so-called "warm hand-off," has been part of the issue for some addicts when it comes to getting into treatment. It's not that doctors haven't identified that there's a problem, or that doctors don't want to see those patients get treatment. It's that finding a treatment program and getting yourself admitted is usually up to the patient. A doctor can say, "I think you need treatment," but then a patient has to follow up. And that can feel overwhelming to someone who is in active addiction - someone who may have trouble managing even the most basic aspects of his or her life. So, having some help -  a coach at your bedside in the ER, a doctor on the phone with treatment counselors right there, in the doctor's office - removes that barrier, and could ease the transition.