Kevin Mahoney, CEO

More than 130 people die from an opioid overdose every day in the United States, and that number is barely waning — but teams across Penn Medicine are working hard to reverse that trend, together with public agencies, community partners, and the public.

By using evidence-based bundles of care to control our patients’ pain, our Health System has reduced the number of prescribed opioids by millions of tablets in just the last two years. We’re providing better, more advanced and personalized care, and we’re keeping our patients safer along the way.

While we work together as a health system across the whole region we serve, our individual entities and practices are also working locally. Lancaster General Health, for instance, was recently recognized by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) as recipients of the Community Champions Award. LG Health’s work with community partners on a combination of service access, prevention, and recovery initiatives has helped slash overdose opioid deaths by more than a third in 2018 in the Lancaster area. You can read more in print or online.

As you’ll read below, at PPMC’s Center for Opioid Recovery and Engagement (CORE), community outreach and education are all key components of helping people get on the road to recovery. Knowing what to do — and having the resources to do it — saves lives. Everyone has a part to play.

PPMC Prepares the Community to Come to the Rescue

(From left): Bryant Rivera, Jeanmarie Perrone, and Nicole O’Donnell.

University of Pennsylvania senior Sydney Gwynn was downtown when she suddenly heard calls for help and found a crowd surrounding an unconscious man in the midst of an opioid overdose. Rather than panicking, she sprung to action. She was carrying a dose of NARCAN (naloxone) — a nasal spray designed to reverse an overdose — that she had received just a few days earlier at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center’s Opioid Use Disorder Town Hall. Prepared to offer emergency assistance, Gwynn quickly retrieved the NARCAN from her bag, tapped into the knowledge and confidence she gained at the event, and saved a life.

In organizing the town hall held earlier this summer, Jeanmarie Perrone, MD, director of Medical Toxicology, and Nicole O’Donnell, a certified recovery specialist at PPMC’s CORE, had three main goals: illustrate how the emergency department and CORE serve as gateways to treatment for patients with opioid use disorder; clear up confusion surrounding addiction and treatment options; and empower individuals to carry and use NARCAN in their communities.

“If you watch someone come and go from rehab, you might think nothing works, but there are ways to get people into treatment, and it can be successful and transformative,” Perrone said. While describing the roles that Suboxone (buprenorphine), Vivitrol (naltrexone), and methadone can play in medication assisted treatment, she added, “It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all, but just like treating any other chronic disease, there shouldn’t be barriers to care.”

After receiving stabilizing medications, patients are connected with CORE staff who help them acquire “additional stabilizers,” such as secure housing, insurance, and a support system. Whether a patient is ready to explore next steps like inpatient treatment or opts to talk about harm reduction strategies, like utilizing syringe services and carrying NARCAN, “they know we’re going to show up for them. Even if we’re just bringing them Pop-Tarts because they’re hungry, they realize soon enough that we’re just going to keep coming back and checking in,” O’Donnell said.

But, just as Gwynn realized, this work isn’t contained to the hospital, and Perrone and O’Donnell can’t do it alone. In addition to distributing NARCAN, they started an interactive dialogue with audience about the importance of being a first responder, the process of administering a dose, and what to expect afterward. They also took the opportunity to bust some myths that, O’Donnell noted, “really add to the stigma and the fear of helping.” For example, the belief that touching fentanyl will immediately cause an overdose or that mistakenly giving NARCAN to someone who isn’t overdosing will harm them are both false.

“The ultimate goal is to have more people on the ground carrying NARCAN and positioned to offer help,” Perrone said. “Even if you don’t feel you can be the person to use it in a rescue situation, if you’re carrying it, someone’s going to feel comfortable enough to administer it. So many people have been affected by opioids through friends, family, or coworkers. We can all improve our dialogue and actions around this.”

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