Team 7 Helps 16 New Participants Battle Opioid Addiction

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This week, as we continue exploring Pathways new team targeting opioid addiction, something significant happened. A particularly dangerous batch of heroine caused nearly 50 overdoses last Thursday alone. I was working that night on Kensington Avenue when a woman overdosed. After she woke up, and left with the EMTs, I took a deep breath. I turned to the woman next to me and asked “are you all right?” “Yeah,” she said, with a short humorless laugh. “This is the second one today,” meaning her second time helping someone who had overdosed. “How many a week?” I shot back. “I don’t know,” she responded. “A lot.”

All of the work going into Team 7-the planning, the grant writing, the training, the hiring-are about this woman. No one should have to get used to watching their friends die, wondering each time if they’re going to come back. Our new team’s leader, Kristen Hamill, pointed out recently that we’ve known for a long time that addiction is a mental illness, but it’s taken a while for society to catch up. Most people don’t want to be addicted to drugs. “They know it’s hurting others,” she said, “but they just can’t stop.” Team 7 was born because no one should have to live in the clutches of addiction. People caught in that cycle deserve what all of us deserve- a safe place to go to sleep at night, and a roof over their heads.

Team 7 has already been hard at work bringing people off the streets. They currently have 16 participants, and are working on authorizing more. They’ve already caught a glimpse of the unique challenges in working with this population. Kirsten describes recent efforts to support someone who hadn’t moved in yet, but wanted to go to detox. The team scheduled multiple appointments with her, but she never showed up. She was sleeping in an abandoned house, so each time she missed an appointment the team had to relocate her to reschedule. It took 2 weeks, but they finally managed to get her into detox. “You don’t have to get clean,” Kristen says, “You can if you want to, but we’re going to house you either way.” That line has been important in building relationships to fill the remainder of the teams 60 spots.

Team 7 is following the team case management model practiced across Pathways, with some unique additions. Like our other teams, they have 4 Service Coordinators and a Nurse who work primarily in the field, a Certified Peer Specialist with personal experience in homelessness, addiction or mental illness, and an Assistant Team Leader and Team Leader, who split their time between the office and the field. They also have a Program Assistant who holds down the fort administratively, and access to our agency psychiatrists. Unlike our traditional teams, all of these individuals have some background working with addiction. This team also has 2 substance abuse specialists, with specific experience and training working in addiction treatment. Finally, this team will have access to a part-time therapist. Trauma and addiction often go hand in hand. In treating people holistically, we recognize that their mental and physical well-being impact their decision to use. 

The ability to offer therapy services is connected with some other exciting supports for our new team. Several months ago, Pathways learned we had received a Centers for Excellence in Opioid Treatment award from the state, along with our partner agencies Project Home and Prevention Point. In addition to helping fund a therapist, the award will allow us to offer Suboxone, Vivitrol, and other medications used to treat opioid addiction. This represents a huge benefit for our participants. There are multiple personal, practical and systemic barriers to accessing treatment. Offering services at our office takes down a lot of those barriers, and will hopefully make it much less imitating for people to say yes to treatment.

As Thursdays overdose spike shows, Philadelphia still has a long way to go in fighting the opioid epidemic. But we at Pathways are so grateful for the funding and support we’ve received to be part of the solution. We are excited to bring our expertise to this new team, and are already seeing the power that a safe home and consistent supports have for someone experiencing severe addiction. We hope you’ll journey with us over the next months and years as we continuing finding ways to bring Housing First to vulnerable men and women who need it.

For more on Pathways new team and Philadelphia's opioid epidemic, check out last week's post

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About the Author

Becca DeWhitt is an MBA candidate at Temple University. She is passionate about creating a world where everyone's experience and perspective is valued, and sees story-telling as a powerful tool to that end.

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