War on Opioids: ‘Safe Stations’ across Providence

Series Producer: Caitlin Grimaldi

Photojournalist and Editor: Scott Santos (WJAR)

People on the front lines of the opioid epidemic will tell you it can be tough getting someone in the throes of opioid use into treatment.

While some make it, others don't.

"We actually never know what we're walking in to," said Capt. David Palumbo, who works out of the North Main Street fire station.

Palumbo said many of the calls are for overdoses.

"There's too much unknown -- what they took and who's on scene and what they have on them, so overdoses are pretty dangerous runs," he said.

When NBC 10 News was with Palumbo, he responded to a call on the east side to help a man who is known to police and EMS.

"The worst case I've seen -- I had a father overdose in his house in front of his kids,” Palumbo said.

"I'm trying to save his life with the Narcan and he'd rather keep the high than get the Narcan. That's how much it takes over your brain control."

That man, he said, survived.

But that’s not always the case.

So, what can be done for people who are ready for help?

“Safe Stations” are located at all Providence fire stations. The stations, which are open 24/7, help connect people to help before they’re in crisis.

But they have to be ready.

"One-hundred percent, it's confidential. There's no police involvement and we get them help they need in 15 minutes," said Palumbo.

There’s also something else that may make a difference -- Rhode Island Hospital, in conjunction with Brown University, is embarking on a new study.

"We're looking to enroll 650 people over two years,” said Dr. Francesca Beaudoin, a researcher and emergency room physician at Rhode Island Hospital.

They want to find out what works.

"We'll be enrolling people who come in to the Rhode Island Hospital ED for an overdose or have experienced an overdose recently,” said Brandon Marshall, a researcher at Brown University. “We are comparing the impact of a peer recovery intervention, who are based in the community. These are individuals who are in recovery from addiction for two years or more. And we're comparing that to a more traditional intervention delivered by clinical social work staff who are also very used to dealing with patients who are suffering from addiction."

For those not yet in recovery, there are fentanyl test strips, which are not yet available commercially. Brown University leading that study.

"And we were interested in determining whether people at risk for overdose would use them and whether the results would modify their behavior to reduce the risk of overdose,” said Marshall.

Just under 100 people took part in the pilot study.

"Over 75 percent of people used a strip within two to four weeks of the follow up period,” said Marshall. “Fifty percent of those who used a strip got at least one positive and what we found was getting a positive result was strongly associated with behaviors that reduced someone's risk of overdose.”

Helpful Links:

Grant to Expand MAT program at ACI

MAT program in prison

Kristen’s Law

RI Drug Court

Brown University study on fentanyl strips

RI Hospital/Brown University research grant

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