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Hospital targets drug overdose crisis with peer support program
Medical Center unveils ED-CARES to guide survivors through recovery
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A crowd that includes state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, left, and state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, center, gathers in front of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center emergency room entrance Nov. 8, 2017, for an announcement from NGMC in response to the opioid overdose crisis in Georgia. NGMC, in association with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse is launching this program that connects people surviving overdoses in NGMC emergency departments to peer recovery support services. - photo by Scott Rogers

With the number of local overdose patients more than doubling in a year’s time, survivors now will have people to walk beside them who have been in their shoes.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center unveiled its ED-CARES Peer Support program Wednesday at its Gainesville campus. The program connects “certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists” in the emergency department.

“We’re going to match up people in recovery with those folks who experience overdose to say, ‘What do you want to do next? I’ve been right where you are. Let me help you,’” said Neil Campbell, executive director for the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

The Medical Center is the first hospital in Georgia helping overdose survivors work with peer recovery specialists. Northeast Georgia Health System CEO and President Carol Burrell said the program “demonstrates our willingness to continue to lead the way.”

“Recovery community has a rich tradition of giving back, and that’s why I feel so lucky to do what I do, and I know the community around here has responded in ways that we didn’t even imagine,” Campbell said.

In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Act, which made Naloxone available over the counter. Naloxone, often seen as Narcan, is an opioid antidote.

The Medical Center handled 696 overdose patients in 2016 compared to 281 cases in 2015.

“It’s so prevalent and so widespread and people don’t realize that it’s affecting every family, all families,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.

Program manager Ted McAllister said a specialist will have a conversation with a patient to discuss recovery resources after he or she is medically stable.

“We also do overdose prevention education as well, because we also know that someone leaving a hospital after an overdose has a very high likelihood of overdosing again,” he said.

After discharge, the survivor is offered telephone recovery support for a 10-day period as well as monthly check-ins.

Survivors of all types of substance overdose are eligible.

“We will do everything we can to support their choices as to how their recovery is going along,” McAllister said.

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