Innovative partnership is breaking the cycle of opioid overdoses in Wake County

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- An innovative partnership between Wake County EMS and the Healing Transitions addiction recovery center in Raleigh is saving lives on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic.

"In terms of our approach, it's probably the most outside the box that it gets," said Benji Currie, district chief for Wake County EMS.

The Rapid Responder program is working to break the cycle of people with substance-use disorder who overdose, get revived by Narcan, and use drugs again.

The team is made up of a Wake County paramedic and two people from Healing Transitions who have overcome their own addiction challenges.

They get a daily list of people who have OD'd in the past 24 hours and they make a house call.

The team shares resources for recovery and encourages people to get help.

Ashley Eimers is one of the team members and she speaks from experience when she visits people who have survived an overdose.

"When I can sit there and tell them that I've been homeless and I've been broke and I've done some pretty despicable things to support my addiction, and they can see where I am today, I think it tends to give them a little bit of hope," Eimers said.

She has been clean for three years and said she believes her experience makes overdose survivors receptive to help from the Rapid Responders.

"Most often they want help even if they don't know it at the time," Eimers said.

A young man who wants to be called "Josh," is one of their success stories.

"I really had trouble putting down the needle," Josh said.

He said that he overdosed on heroin five times in six months and paramedics revived him each time with Narcan.

Rapid Responder Rusty Kiley persuaded Josh to get help at Healing Transitions.

"There's no judgment," Kiley said. "We are in this for whatever it takes to help them get clean."

Josh considers it a breakthrough. He's been sober since Christmas.

"If he hadn't reached out to me, I probably just would've kept right on rolling at the rate I was going," Josh said. "It was basically like a stop sign and it showed me a way out."

The Rapid Responders hope everyone turns out like Josh, but they know getting people help for their addiction can be a lengthy process.

"They might not respond to us for the first few weeks of us texting and calling," Eimers said. "But we continue to text and continue to call and eventually they usually reach out."
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