Statistics show warm handoffs are getting overdose survivors into recovery programs


The state is working to save lives by getting more counties equip to do warm handoffs. Warm handoffs involve specialists going to emergency rooms to try to get opioid overdose survivors into treatment.

The goal is keep patients from being released from the hospital and returning to drugs. It’s a way to streamline the path to recovery.

“The disease will tell you they’re not that bad…but you just died twice,” said Sterling Tarbert, who officiates warm handoffs. “They just had to Narcan you twice.”

Tarbert is a certified recovery specialist from Harrisburg.

“Not later, not tomorrow, I can get you into treatment right now,” said Tarbert.

The state is kicking off the second round of summits to help more counties implement warm handoffs March 20th.

Here in the Midstate, some counties are just getting the program off its feet, and others have used it to help hundreds of people. 

“We’re getting people to next step,” said Angela Cook, a recovery advocate who also officiates warm handoffs. “Sometimes the next step is harm reduction. They’re not ready for detox or treatment.”

PA started warm handoffs in 2016 but data collection didn’t start until 2017.

Since then, more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians have been referred to treatment by the program. 

“These are patients who need medical treatment which can often include medicine but also very important counseling and therapy and case management services,” said PA Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. 

Success varies, but statistics show the program is making a difference.

York County has had nearly 550 warm handoffs, and more than 100 of those patients began recovery programs.

Cumberland County’s warm handoffs got started in December. So far, 18 out of the 22 people who’ve had one are undergoing treatment.

In a nine-month period, Dauphin County caseworkers did more than 115 assessments, and 50 people were referred to treatment.

“It’s been rewarding as well as challenging, as well as breathtaking and heartening,” said Tarbert. “Just seeing these people….thank God they’ve made it.”

Wait times and transportation are some of the barriers that have come up.

Sometimes, people want to begin treatment, but don’t have a way to get there. 

Recovery specialists have been working with facilities to find solutions.

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