County’s Suicide and Overdose Fatality Review team making recommendations to prevent deaths

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Sherri Jewett, executive director of Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress Bartholomew County, helps set up a display of shoes on the steps of Columbus City Hall before an International Overdose Awareness event in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The shoes were placed on the steps to represent individuals who overdosed in Bartholomew County.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — A multi-disciplinary group reviewing local overdose deaths and suicides has started making its first recommendations that its members hope will help prevent future deaths.

The group, called the Bartholomew County Suicide and Overdose Fatality Review (SOFR) Team, has been meeting monthly for much of this year to review each overdose death and suicide in the county to examine what happened, what gaps may exist in local prevention efforts and develop data-informed prevention initiatives to prevent future deaths.

The SOFR team was formed late last year as local overdose deaths soared to their highest level on record and includes representatives from the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP), Bartholomew County Coroner’s Office, Columbus Regional Health and Centerstone, among others.

The first recommendations, which are based on detailed reviews of 10 deaths, involve enhancing efforts at getting people who survive an overdose into addiction treatment quickly and making harm reduction measures, particularly naloxone, more readily available to people, said ASAP Executive Director Sherri Jewett and other officials who are involved with the team.

Naloxone is a nasal spray often sold under the brand name Narcan that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose.

“When the team meets, you identify those areas where you can make the biggest difference the fastest,” Jewett said. “…Those are the first two areas that the team is going to work on.”

As a result of the group’s recommendations, Columbus Regional Health has developed a mechanism through which CRH’s Treatment and Support Center (TASC) will be notified via email anytime that a patient is treated in the hospital’s emergency department for a drug overdose, said TASC Medical Director Dr. Kevin Terrell.

TASC, 2630 22nd St., provides a range of outpatient treatments for substance use disorders, including medication-assisted treatment in certain cases.

Once TASC receives notification, Terrell reviews each of the cases to determine the cause of the overdose, he said. If the cause is determined to be related to drug abuse, one of the center’s recovery coaches will contact the patient to talk to them about getting into treatment at TASC.

Before that system was put in place, TASC would largely rely on emergency department physicians and nurses to alert them, though the “competing priorities in a busy ED (emergency department)” can result in some patients falling through the cracks.

For the complete story, see Saturday’s Republic.