‘Warm handoff’ aids addicted
Physician General of Pennsylvania Dr. Rachel Levine gave a press conference at Lehigh Valley Hospital June 12 on new programs which aim at getting drug addicted patients – notably, opioid and heroin abusers – the care they need. Several representatives from the hospital and other local organizations were on hand to give insight on their efforts.
A warm handoff, also known as a facilitative referral, seeks to aid individuals who are suffering from addiction rather than releasing them once they are treated for an overdose. In tandem with the Department of Health and the Department of Drug and Alcohol, the state developed a warm handoff clinical pathway which can be used by local branches.
“We should really use, essentially, a heart attack model,” Levine said. Overdose patients would be resuscitated on-site, and get immediate treatment at the hospital. The individual then progresses into further treatment for their addiction.
Levine also noted the need to expand the use of naloxone, a medicine which counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose. Levine signed new standing order prescriptions in 2015 allowing both police and the public access to naloxone in order to revive more individuals. Over the last two years, police saved over 3,500 lives using naloxone in Pennsylvania.
An overarching theme of the forum revolved around the prevailing public attitudes associated with addictions.
“We have to get past the stigma associated with this condition. Addiction is a medical condition,” Levine said. “It is a disease. It is not a moral failing.”
Layne Turner, drug and alcohol administrator of Lehigh County’s human services department, said this stigma can sometimes damage relationships amongst individuals, which are highly important in warm handoffs.
“We know we cannot arrest our way, or legislate our way, out of this drug epidemic,” Turner said. “But as members of the community we can join together, educate ourselves and develop the relationships that will make a difference.”
Dr. Robert Cannon, D.O., emphasized patients facing addiction need to get necessary treatment.
“I’m managing a symptom,” Cannon said. “The disease is addiction.”
Levine highlighted in her presentation that the Lehigh Valley Health Network has fostered a strong network based on this model.
In order to better combat the addiction, LVHN has collaborated with local governmental services to establish Hospital Opioid Support Teams, which seek to facilitate warm handoffs by giving addicts a network of support. Cannon praised the collaboration as key in understanding how to combat addiction in the long-term.
Dr. David Burmeister, D.O., who serves as the chair of the department of emergency with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, echoed Cannon’s sentiments and encouraged unity as the ultimate solution.
“Addiction needs to be managed as a disease and it’s imperative for all of us to elevate our standard of care in order to take care of its patient population,” Burmeister said. “Collaboration, connection and communication are the only ways that we’ll be able to attack this epidemic.”
Following the speeches, a question and answer session was held with the audience to discuss further inquiries.