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Pitt's PERU Partners with PA Counties to Train First Responders for Opioid Crisis

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PITTSBURGH – The University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) is partnering with Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc. and the Center for Emergency Medicine to increase access to drug and alcohol treatment and reduce opioid overdoses by training first responders to implement community-based paramedicine (CP).


CP expands the role of paramedics to administer non-traditional services through public health and prevention approaches, including the use of naloxone for overdose reversal, motivational interviewing to facilitate referrals to substance use disorder, and mental health treatment and harm reduction follow-up procedures for patients who do not wish to pursue medical treatment.


Funding for this initiative is provided by a recent award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). First responders in Westmoreland, Washington, Indiana, Butler and Fayette counties will participate. 


“When patients are transferred to the hospital following an overdose, there are opportunities for ‘warm handoffs’ to additional treatment and counseling, but for patients who refuse transport, the opportunity to guide them to other resources is lost,” said Janice Pringle, Ph.D., professor, pharmacy and therapeutics, Pitt School of Pharmacy, and PERU director. “This program will allow paramedics to conduct more in-depth screenings of these patients and facilitate connections to treatment on their behalf, ultimately saving lives.”


The program hopes to increase the number of overdoses treated with naloxone while also increasing the number of “leave-behind” naloxone kits issued to patients and families. It also aims for CP-trained first responders to answer more overdose calls and, therefore, generate more referrals to care management entities.


“We are confident this initiative will encourage overdose survivors and other at-risk individuals to engage in treatment services, and we are excited to partner with PERU and the Center for Emergency Medicine to equip paramedics with the additional tools they need to save lives,” said Colleen Hughes, director of Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission. 


Community members are invited to the group’s next meeting, which will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 30 at the Mon Valley Career & Technology Center.


Visit the PERU website for additional information about its resources for counties combating the opioid epidemic.