Md. fire, police departments used as 'safe stations' for opioid addicts

The program turned fire and police departments into safe havens for those addicted to drugs and has helped 45 people in the last three weeks

By Phil Davis
The Capital

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Md. — The “Safe Stations” initiative in Anne Arundel County has taken off over the past month, offering opioid addiction help to 45 people over the last three weeks.

At 15 people a week, according to Anne Arundel police, its popularity is well beyond what county officials expected.

The program — which turned police and fire departments into veritable safe havens for those addicted to drugs looking for help — originally launched with the expectation that its capacity would be about five people per week.

The increase has led to an influx of people in need of detoxification and caused those in charge of the program to make some changes to fit the growing demand.

“A large portion of the people, because they’re fearful of the withdrawal, need that detox piece,” said Jen Corbin, head of the Mobile Crisis Team that oversees the program.

Corbin said word of mouth is helping the Safe Stations program’s popularity, with people coming out of it and “spreading the word that, ‘This has helped me.’ ”

The initiative was expanded last month after the state sent the county a $287,000 grant to hire personnel for the county’s Crisis Response Team, which refers those in the program to various resources throughout the county to help with treatment.

For Peter D’Souza, executive director of the Hope House Treatment Center, it’s part of what’s led to a longer waiting list of people awaiting treatment.Souza, executive director of the Hope House Treatment Center, it’s part of what’s led to a longer waiting list of people awaiting treatment.

Currently, 60 people are on a wait list for treatment at the Crownsville-based center, D’Souza said.

Not all of it can be attributed to Safe Stations, he added. Part of the center’s policy is to prioritize those who are referred there after having suffered an overdose over those who voluntarily commit themselves.

With 715 people having overdosed as of Wednesday, according to Anne Arundel police, there’s no shortage of new patients as the county continues to set weekly highs for overdoses.

But he said he’s worried he won’t be able to adequately staff the center, which just increased its capacity from 16 beds to 49 beds as of July.

Maryland law requires the center to have one substance abuse counselor for every eight patients admitted, D’Souza said.

While he has the beds to accommodate more patients, he only has three counselors and is struggling to find more with an accredited counseling degree.

“The salaries in the addiction field are lower than those in other fields,” D’Souza said. “That is something that the state and the county … needs to start addressing.”Souza said. “That is something that the state and the county … needs to start addressing.”

County Health Officer Fran Phillips said while a federal waiver that allows treatment centers in Maryland with more than 16 beds to receive federal dollars allowed places like House Hope to expand, it magnified the issue of a lack of accredited addiction counselors.

“They’re full and they’re looking for staff like everybody else is,” Phillips said of Hope House. “Where are we going to find qualified addiction counselors?”

Corbin said her team has started to work closer with many of the detoxification providers — such as Hope House and Pathways in Annapolis — to better accommodate incoming patients.

In addition, the team is referring some people who come through Safe Stations to treatment centers outside the county if it’s more convenient, she said.

Copyright 2017 The Capital

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