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Substance-Recovery Program Sees Success, May Serve as State Model

Hannah Breisinger
The program is being run through Coastal Horizons Center in Wilmington.

 Correction: A mistake in this story states that the program was funded by the City of Wilmington. The city was awarded the money by the state, via an appropriation from the NC General Assembly.  It then co-tracked the work to Coastal Horizons.  

An innovative substance-recovery program in Wilmington, designed to tackle the national opioid epidemic, is seeing promising results. Just over a year into its pilot run, program leaders hope it will serve as a model across North Carolina. 

In 2016, 2-year-old Mason Morgan’Lee Richardson was killed in a car accident. After responders discovered that the driver who caused the crash was high on heroin and had been revived by Narcan four times in a six-month-period, city officials realized that more needed to be done to tackle a growing drug epidemic. 

“...to say that compassion fatigue regarding the use of Narcan doesn't exist, would be a complete -- it's a lie. It does, throughout EMS, fire and in PD.”

That’s Wilmington Fire Captain Chuck Bower. He says while Narcan administration does save lives, it’s controversial. 

Officials with the new program say that now they’re helping overdose survivors through not just revival -- but individualized, rehabilitative care. 

The program is called Quick Response Team, or QRT. But unlike an immediate administration of Narcan, “quick” really means three to five days. That’s the window of time the team reaches out to people who have survived an overdose and who may benefit from the rehabilitation program. 

Treatment is provided through the Coastal Horizons Center and may include detox, medication assisted treatment, intensive out-patient and in-patient treatment, and/or therapy. 

Trained, licensed clinicians are part of the team, but so are peer-support specialists, who first reach out to prospective patients before they’ve entered treatment. 

“Peer support specialists kind of walk alongside of people and encourage them, ‘Look, I've been there. You know, if you don't have a ride, I'll give you a ride. I'll go with you. I'll give you a call, I'll make sure you're on target with your appointments.’ ...Really, we're giving adults context and support to navigate a very dangerous and difficult journey.”

That’s Kenny House, Coastal Horizon’s Vice-President for Clinical Support. House says this concept of peer support is really what sets QRT apart from other rehabilitation programs. 

“Two of the biggest variables for success in treatment are length of time and engagement... Then the second thing is bonding, with the provider… meaning a therapist. And so this team is very strong on bonding, because obviously we're building rapport and relationships even before they're in treatment, through peer support.”

House says the success of the program is backed up by its numbers. Since July of 2018, over 1,000 follow-up contacts with over 140 people have been made. 78% of those contacted have entered care.

Lori entered treatment after drugs nearly killed her. 

“I started using opiates when I hurt my back. And then I ended up coming to Wilmington… and you guys don't have the drug that I did in Florida. So I started doing heroin here. And what happened was I overdosed... outside of a building and almost didn't come back.”

Now, she’s been clean for six months.   

“The story continues. Now, I live with two sober people, I'm not using, I don't hang around anybody that uses. But the support that this place gives you is just.... I know I wouldn't still be here sober if they hadn't been in my corner.”

While the future of QRT isn’t entirely clear, it looks fairly promising. The City of Wilmington initially funded the program with half-a-million dollars for a two-year pilot run – then granted another $250,000 for a third year.

This is good news for North Carolina Representative Ted Davis, a Republican from New Hanover County – who pushed for the initial funding of QRT. 

“I'm a former state and federal prosecutor, so I was used to putting people in jail when they were charged with a drug offense… And I have come to realize that jail is not necessarily the best option… and I think this program... offers people an opportunity to turn their life around.”



Hannah is WHQR's All Things Considered host, and also reports on science, the environment, and climate change. She enjoys loud music, documentaries, and stargazing; and is the proud mother of three cats, a dog, and many, many houseplants. Contact her via email at hbreisinger@whqr.org, or on Twitter @hbreisinger.