Community Paramedicine and Post Overdose Response Teams

Since the late 90s, drug overdoses have spread like a virus. As a result, helping people who struggle with drug abuse is a complicated issue. However, post overdose response teams (PORT) seek to shine some light on a dark topic. 

Many people feel strangled by the grip of drugs. These same individuals feel ostracized and even discriminated against. Companies fire them, apartments evict them, and specific laws restrict their ability to get help.

As the world watches the drug problem balloon, EMS agencies, drug rehab professionals, and mental health teams are trying to be proactive in their approach. 

Post overdose response teams are extending a life vest for those who want help. This article outlines how these programs work, how partnerships with community paramedics can help, and how everyone can iron out the kinks in the armor of overdose response. 

What is a Post Overdose Response Team (PORT)? 

A PORT is a group of professionals who visit a patient recently treated for a drug overdose. Often, the PORT will comprise a substance abuse treatment counselor, a medical care professional (EMT, nurse, or paramedic), and a mental health professional. 

Here are several details about the job of each PORT member: 

  • Substance Rehab Counselor. The rehab counselor often takes a lead role on the team. For example, if the patient wants to talk about treatment and preventative measures, the counselor can provide vital information. 
  • EMS Provider. The EMT, paramedic, or nurse is ready if the patient needs immediate medical attention. However, they can also advise about safe medical practices, such as avoiding dirty needles and learning how to use Narcan. 
  • Mental Health Professional.  Often, mental health struggles, such as anxiety and depression, walk beside drug abuse. If the patient desires, they can coordinate mental health therapy. The professional can also advise effective coping mechanisms.

This team will check on a patient, offer medications, equipment, and resources. These teams will also manage the heavy lifting involved in setting up the patient with drug rehab. 

Let’s explore the best areas for these programs.

What Communities are a Candidate for Post Overdose Response Teams? 

One of the most powerful aspects of the community paramedic model is its ability to adapt. 

Some communities need improved primary care. Some need help with super-utilizers. And some communities would greatly benefit from the services of a post overdose response team. 

Almost all large cities would benefit from efficient programs aimed at helping people who struggle with drugs. However, more surprising is that many rural counties also have widespread drug abuse. As any rural EMS agency will tell you, substance abuse is not just a big city problem. 


How Do Post Overdose Response Teams Help?

The PORT program’s mission is to provide the best resources to patients so they can lift themselves out of drug misuse and addiction. Typically, a PORT will visit a patient within 72 hours of a Narcan-treated overdose

Often, those in drug addiction feel unable to call for help. PORT gives patients access to the resources they need. Unlike past models, where patients have been treated as “drug abusers.” PORT desires to take a humble approach to rehabilitation. Instead of stigmatizing patients, the goal is to meet them where they are, understand them, and treat them as fellow humans.

PORT members will often be people who broke free from drug addiction and inspire patients to seek help. 

There isn’t a limit to the type of people who could commit to a PORT program. For example, members of local churches and faith-based institutions may have insight and resources to help people overcome drug addiction. 

The following section discusses how community paramedicine and mobile integrated healthcare can play a significant role in reaching out to patients. 

How Do Community Paramedics Help? 

Here are several reasons why community paramedics are a great addition to post overdose response teams: 

  • Paramedics know the area. Paramedics are comfortable with the geography and demographics of a community. Paramedics and EMTs frequently respond to all community areas and are not phased by interacting with difficult situations. 
  • They are trusted. Ambulance crews are typically trusted members of a community. Where uniformed law enforcement can inadvertently cause patients anxiety, paramedics generally are seen as non-judgmental.
  • Community medics can set up recurring treatments. Not only can paramedics meet with patients after a drug overdose, but they can set up recurring appointments with the patients. Many people with drug problems also have other health concerns that may require care. 
  • They provide needed medical care. As stated, community paramedics are well-suited to provide needed medical care. Showing compassion for someone’s illness is a language everyone understands and respects. 

If you think your community needs a community paramedic program but you’re struggling to get others on board, mentioning the ability to care for those struggling with substance abuse may change minds. 

The horrors of drugs touch all levels of society. Developing programs to fight this battle doesn’t just help the person; it helps the community thrive. 


Pitfalls to Avoid with Post Overdose Response 

Sometimes, there are good ideas with bad execution. This section discusses some of the pitfalls to avoid when initiating a community paramedic PORT program. 

Here are several things to watch out for:

  • Forcing programs on the patient. Instead of stigmatizing people with drug problems and treating them like prisoners in a community, overdose response teams take a humble approach – one that makes people feel loved and heard. For this reason, it’s often very powerful to look for people who have conquered addiction to be part of the team.
  • Unexpected Visits. If possible, try to notify patients that the team will be calling on their homes. If the patient doesn’t wish to have anyone come, you should carefully consider the efficacy of a forced visit. Again, the goal is to humanize the experience, not demand the patient comply. 
  • Threatening Behavior. One of the reasons it’s so practical to have community paramedics as the leader of these teams is that they create a non-threatening presence. Of course, there are times when law enforcement must be present; however, teams should notify the patient to prevent unwanted anxiety whenever possible. 

Below, we discuss several more downfalls to a good PORT and Community paramedic program.


Uncoordinated Response

Perhaps your community already has a post overdose response team; if this is the case, it wouldn’t necessarily be prudent to create another. Partnering with a current team may be a more efficient use of personnel. 

However, preventing such double house calls and services can also come down to logistics – many departments cannot share information effectively with other providers (community mental health, home nurses, etc.). Consider adapting your community to an integrated platform, one that brings hospitals, EMS, and law enforcement together. Services like Julota can help people talk across software platforms. 

Furthermore, there may be instances where more than one provider is seeing a patient. For example, you may have the mental health professionals visit one week, and the community paramedics visit the next. 

Julota provides a system that allows these providers to share information about patients securely. In addition, Julota delivers a platform that complies with privacy rights and can operate across platforms


Advocate for 911 Good Samaritan Immunity

A severe moral dilemma comes into play when responders are dispatched to a drug emergency. If law enforcement finds evidence of illicit drug paraphernalia, the patient (and any friends or family associated with the incident) might be charged with a crime. On the other hand, law enforcement may be bound by the law to make an arrest.

These situations make it less appealing for anyone to call 911 when they suspect someone has overdosed. Bystanders fear that they will become tangled up in legal troubles and possibly jail time. As a result, nobody calls 911, and an overdose victim does not receive the lifesaving care they need. 

This problem has sparked 911 good Samaritan laws all over the United States. The laws are in place to protect bystanders – whether involved with the drugs or not – if they call 911 for someone who has suffered an overdose. 

Failure to Obtain Funding 

Before starting a PORT program, it’s essential to prepare for sustainable funding. Thankfully, the options to obtain funding are wide. Check out our article on securing funding for a community paramedic program

However, here are several ideas to get started: 

  • Partner with hospitals 
  • Include PORT in the budget 
  • Apply for Grants 
  • Reach out to Non-profit organizations

The top priority? Get the community on board. If everyone sees the value, there’s a greater chance of generating sustainable funding. 

Final Words on Community Paramedics and PORT Programs

Community paramedics are the perfect partners for post overdose response programs. Paramedics are well-trained to respond to drug overdoses in the field, giving them a launching pad to educate the patient about the dangers of drug abuse. 

PORT programs seek to engage those struggling with drug addiction by offering simple access to mental health professionals, substance abuse counselors, emergency care, and overdose prevention. 

These programs focus on humbly caring for those who struggle with substance abuse. Just offering a helping hand can often encourage people to get help – for themselves, their families, and the community.