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 August 15, 2017 - Dauphin County’s successful proactive “warm handoff” approach to getting overdose victims into immediate treatment praised by state

HARRISBURG, PA (August 14, 2017) State officials today visited PinnacleHealth Harrisburg Hospital learn firsthand about Dauphin County’s successful “warm handoff’’ program that works to get overdose victims immediately into life-saving treatment. 

Since Dauphin County hired two mobile case managers nine months ago to respond 24/7 to overdose scenes – in emergency rooms, bars, homes or other locations – the caseworkers have done 116 assessments and 50 users were referred to treatment. The program is called a “warm handoff’’ because the caseworkers are arranging for the overdose victims to enter treatment – which helps ensure follow-through. 

“­­When someone has nearly died from an overdose, that is the time to get them into treatment that can save their life,’’ said Dauphin County Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III, who oversees the county’s Human Services. “If someone came into the emergency room with a heart attack or stroke, we wouldn’t just give them information and ask them to call a specialist on their own.’’ 

In 2016, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) directed counties and hospitals to develop programs to get overdose survivors into treatment immediately. Because of the seriousness of the opioid epidemic, the Dauphin County Commissioners used grant monies to hire the two caseworkers to ensure addicts would get the help they need. 

“Dauphin County has created a model program that is achieving results and we also want to highlight the cooperation and dedication of PinnacleHealth in helping make this possible,’’ said Acting Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Jennifer Smith. “Without immediate intervention, someone discharged from a hospital after an overdose is at a risk of using again.’’ 


In Dauphin County, overdoses claimed the lives of 85 people in 2016 – an almost 20 percent increase from the previous year and more than died in car accidents, according to Dauphin County Coroner Graham S. Hetrick. As of Aug. 8, the county has seen 61 fatal overdoses. 

“The deadly problem of opioid abuse literally touches every part of our county, urban to suburban, rich and poor,’’ said Dauphin County Commissioners’ Chairman Jeff Haste. “This board is committed to fighting this epidemic and one of the best ways to do that is getting people into treatment as soon as possible, which this program does.’’

 Commissioner Mike Pries stressed that above all, the message is that treatment works and that people who need help should not be afraid or feel stigmatized by coming forward. 

“Drug addiction is too tough to take on alone,’’ Pries said. “Do right by yourself, your children and your family and get the help you need. The only shame is in not getting help.’’ 

Dr. Greg Swartzentruber, physician with PinnacleHealth Emergency Medicine and the PinnacleHealth Center for Addiction Recovery, agreed. 

“Patients addicted to opiates face not only the mental craving for the drug but severe physical withdrawal symptoms,’’ Swartzentruber said. “It’s not something even the strongest individual can stop on their own, which is why Dauphin County’s Warm Handoff program is so important and I believe will save lives.’’ 

In addition to the Warm Handoff program, the Dauphin County has taken the following steps to combat the opioid epidemic: 

  • Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico has received grants to provide training and the overdose reversal drug, naloxone—which goes by the brand name Narcan – to police throughout the county. The commissioners have received funding to provide Narcan and training in its use to other first responders, such as ambulance crews, as well as to families and friends of addicts. Between November 2015 and June 1, 2017, law enforcement officers in the county saved overdose victims from the brink of death more than 100 times. 


  • Inmates released from Dauphin County Prison will be registered in treatment programs so they can continue the progress they are making without interruption.


  • The county is expanding the availability of medical treatments which manage opioid dependence, including methadone, suboxone and vivitrol, which is also used to treat alcohol dependence.


  • Working with area treatment providers, such as Gaudenzia Common Ground, to reduce the waiting list for treatment, especially detox beds.


For more information or to get help, call Dauphin County Drug and Alcohol Services at 717-635-2254.


Category: Dauphin County
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