July 22, 2019
Ashley Eaton-Riley said she likely would have headed to Kensington for more opioids following her overdose in October 2017 – if a certified recovery specialist had not met her at the hospital.
Instead, Eaton-Riley decided to enter a 28-day addiction treatment facility, a decision coordinated by Danyelle Eckert, that recovery specialist on hand at the hospital. Eaton-Riley, 30, of Bucks County, has been sober ever since.
“I just overdosed; I’m knocking on death’s door,” Eaton-Riley recalled. “My family has been notified. Now, they’re upset with me. I have nowhere to go. … I was at my bottom. I was either going to get help or not. If the option for me to get help wasn’t there, I think I would have just given up.”
Eaton-Riley had already overdosed several times during an opioid addiction battle that persisted more than a decade. But she said never had received a "warm handoff," a facilitated referral into a treatment facility after a patient is admitted to an emergency room for an overdose.
All Pennsylvania counties are now required to have warm handoff policies designed to meet people at this critical juncture of their addiction.
In Bucks County, certified recovery specialists like Eckert discuss recovery options with overdose survivors at the hospital and stand ready to offer immediate placement into a substance abuse treatment facility.
“Overdose happens 24/7. If a person is at-risk or has just survived overdose, we want to catch them immediately so they don’t have a second thought about accessing treatment. – Diane Rosati, executive director, Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission
“Say an individual comes into the emergency room and they overdose and they just got hit with Narcan,” Eckert said. “They’re going to wake up feeling pretty crappy. And that window is going to close real fast. It’s crucial that we have a recovery specialist up in there – and that we have the funding set up – so if that person is willing to access treatment, we can go now.”
Thanks to new grant funding announced Monday, all six Bucks County hospitals soon will have certified recovery specialists on site at all times. Currently, they sometimes must be called into the hospitals.
The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is providing $650,000 to the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission to implement recommendations outlined in a 2017 study commissioned by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation. That includes expanding the availability of certified recovery specialists.
The study measured the success of a collaboration between Bucks County addiction treatment agencies and hospitals that provided warm handoffs to overdose survivors. It recommended expanding warm handoff training to new physician orientations, implementing automated triggers in electronic health records to identify overdose survivors, and expanding access to the overdose antidote Narcan.
Additionally, the IBX Foundation is launching a new study to re-evaluate the program, track outcomes and provide additional recommendations.
“It’s a fight we’re going to win,” said Steve Fera, IBX senior vice president of public affairs. “I can’t tell you how. I can’t tell you when. But I can tell you we’re not wavering and I can tell you that we’re going to win.”
Across the state, more than 5,000 people have been directly referred to treatment through a warm handoff since 2017. In Bucks County, 56 percent of overdose survivors who agreed to meet with a certified recovery specialist went directly into treatment.
“Overdose happens 24/7,” said Diane Rosati, executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission. “If a person is at-risk or has just survived overdose, we want to catch them immediately so they don’t have a second thought about accessing treatment. The sooner you can access services, the better. If someone is ready, we have to be there to offer them services.”
Eckert, a certified recovery specialist at Jefferson Bucks Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center, was there for Eaton-Riley. And she has been there for others, too.
Some people want to be placed in an inpatient treatment facility, she said. Others are seeking an outpatient facility, an intensive care manager, or a meeting list. Eckert helps them draft their own recovery goal plan and then connects them to resources and support.
“I usually start by introducing myself and I just ask, ‘How can I help you with your recovery today?’” Eckert said. “Because that’s a pretty open-ended question and most people tell me.”
Eaton-Riley said she was happy not to feel judged by Eckert and grateful for the facilitated access to treatment.
“Her being the interceptor between the two – it made it more appealing to go to treatment,” Eaton-Riley said. “Not pushing it on me, but saying ’just call’ made it seem like it was OK to call. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel like I was going to be in trouble. I didn’t feel like there was law enforcement behind it. And I had never experienced anything like that before.”
Now in recovery, Eaton-Riley is helping others in their journey. She works full-time at Daybreak Treatment Solutions, helping women to seek drug and alcohol treatment through 12-step programs.
“Really, it’s like my passion,” Eaton-Riley said.