Rehab In Reach After An Overdose As Scranton Grapples With A Deadly Week

December 22, 2018

Jo Anne Perri waits for a call at Geisinger Community Medical Center and hopes to save another patient from their worst habit.

One day, it might be a heroin addict. Another, it might be someone who prefers cocaine, as Perri once did. Whatever their drug, she’ll use her 17-year journey of recovery to throw someone drowning in active addiction a lifesaver.

As Scranton comes to grips with one of its deadliest weeks in the opioid epidemic, Perri and five others work for a new program that drug and alcohol officials call a crucial step at a moment when an addicted person might be willing to accept recovery.

The 49-year-old woman is a certified recovery specialist. When someone is rushed to the Scranton hospital for treatment of an overdose, she speaks with them and tries to show them another way.

“You can relate to the person, no matter what the substance,” Perri said. “We are showing them recovery is possible. I’ve lived it and breathed it. If I can do it, you can, too.”

The recovery specialist program, known as “warm handoff,” is run by Scranton Counseling Center.

It is among a number of initiatives Lackawanna County drug and alcohol treatment officials have implemented to combat the opioid epidemic.

Between Dec. 13 and 18, 10 people died of suspected drug overdoses in the city. That equates to nearly 11½ percent of all overdose deaths in the county last year. Officials suspect that fentanyl, a drug far more potent than heroin, is to blame

Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano said he hopes the drugs responsible for the latest spell of deaths have been burned through. As of Friday afternoon, no overdose deaths had occurred in Scranton in two days.

“Two days is good but it’s still only two days,” Graziano said.

Roughly 600 people go to GCMC’s emergency room every year for overdose treatment. In the past, the patient would be revived using naloxone, an opioid blocker that reverses the effects of the substance, and discharged.

Recovery specialists act as an intermediary in hopes of convincing people to seek treatment. Participation is voluntary.

“If people are treated in the ER and discharged, the likelihood of them reaching out for treatment is much, much smaller than if you engage them where they are at,” said Edward Heffron, chief executive officer of the counseling center.

The center employs three full-time and three part-time recovery specialists who provide coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week at GCMC. Officials hope to some day expand the service to Regional Hospital and Moses Taylor, owned by Commonwealth Health System, but that’s dependent on funding, Heffron said.

Initial funding was provided through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, he said. The grant will cover program costs through the end of 2019. The center will need to come up with other funding sources to continue beyond that.

The specialists do not provide treatment. They’re strictly a peer support network that provides patients with information about treatment and support services that are available.

“We take them by the hand and walk them on a path to recovery,” Perri said.

Sharing personal experience is a key part to that.

“I’ll tell them my journey toward finding my path to recovery, my experiences and what worked for me,” Perri said.

So far, it’s working, said Barbara Durkin, director of the Lackawanna-Susquehanna Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Since its rollout in September, the recovery specialists have approached 100 patients. Of those, 82 were placed in substance abuse treatment, Durkin said.

Durkin said her office will also pick up the tab for treatment and medication for the uninsured and under-insured. A bed at an inpatient facility can cost $300 a night. The funding comes from federal dollars, she said.

“We can pay for any level of care,” Durkin said. “Short-term, detox, long-term plus a halfway house stay if that’s what’s needed. ... Funding and access aren’t reasons people shouldn’t connect to treatment.”

She urged anyone struggling with addiction to contact her office at 570-963-6315 during office hours or at an after hours number monitored at all times: 570-840-8475.

Contact the writers: jkohut@timesshamrock.com;


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