'We’re trying to stop the death part of it'

Cary Ashby • Updated Mar 9, 2017 at 12:11 AM

The overdose outbreak alert program implemented by Huron County Public Health is geared toward saving lives.

The health department has started an overdose outbreak alert, activated when the number of overdose cases is more than what is expected. The threshold is based on the number of overdose cases in the emergency rooms of Fisher-Titus Medical Center, The Bellevue Hospital and Mercy Health-Willard Hospital.

“This really is about saving lives,” Huron County Health Commissioner Tim Hollinger said. 

Hollinger declined to release the threshold numbers, but said at least one of the county emergency rooms will have at least one overdose patient each day.

“Each (hospital) has its own threshold to consider,” he added.

When the hospital reaches that number, E.R. personnel then call the Huron County Sheriff’s Office. Hollinger said he then is notified via dispatcher — no matter what time it is — and he calls the E.R., asking a series of questions to determine if the alert is the result of an anomaly or if there’s really an emergency.

“I’m asking demographic questions … questions that HIPAA doesn’t protect,” he explained. 

Hollinger gave examples of asking if the hospital checked for the patient being positive for heroin and does the person live with a heroin user. 

“We have a business agreement with the hospital,” he said.

Ultimately, the health commissioner said that means he can’t give police that same information unless a prosecutor compels him to do so. 

“We decided we’re not giving any more information to the first-responders than we are to the public,” he added.

The alert is part of the Huron County Opiate Response Plan, which is to address overdoses and abuse. Part of the plan calls for early notification of agencies and community members of an opiate overdose outbreak. An outbreak is when emergency rooms see a higher than normal number of overdose patients in a 24-hour period based on historic reports.

Huron County had an alert at 7:55 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re trying to stop the death part of it,” Hollinger said. “We are still refining this (gathering of statistics). … We are trying to develop this as it goes.”

Hollinger said the alert is supposed to accomplish two things:

• Give a heads-up or warning to first-responders and emergency rooms that the county has “more than normal potent solution” of opiates in the area, so they can be prepared with the proper equipment such as Narcan

• Notify residents to be more aware of loved ones who may be susceptible to an overdose.

The health department received about 15,000 Facebook hits after the Reflector posted a story about the alert online.

“So it is just exploding through the community,” Hollinger said.

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