PORTLAND, Ore. -- Jackie Robertson is a heroin addict in Clackamas County who nearly died in February.
“I’m trying to do what I can,” he told Amy Jo Cook from Clackamas Fire District One, and her partner Dan Hall from American Medical Response.
“We're really working on getting you some inpatient care,” Cook told Robertson.
Cook and Hall are visiting the addict at his home as part of a new program hoping to cut down on overdose deaths. It started three months ago after public health leaders in the county studied calls for overdoses and discovered the two agencies responded to nearly all of them.
Why not, they wondered, follow up on those who survive to make sure they are doing OK and nudge them along the path to recovery.
Now Cook and Hall routinely make surprise visits.
Robertson said he is trying to stay clean but life is not going well.
“Everything I do gets me into an argument with my wife,” he said.
Part of the reason the program is already showing success is a caring connection.
“We're able to build a rapport with those people we're serving so they start to trust us. I think, that is why our program is successful,” said Hall.
It is not easy on either side.
Cook is frustrated she cannot get Robertson into the intensive inpatient help she thinks he needs.
“Walking away from Jackie's house just now I was heartbroken. Last week he was so hopeful. His wife was excited and completely on board with everything that was going on -- its just day to day. I'm really struggling getting him in to a bed,” she said.
Last year 183 people died in the greater Portland area from opioid overdoses.
Cook is glad Congress is putting pressure on executives from pharmaceutical companies but warns the problem will get worse before it gets better.
“That numbers gonna keep going up. As prescription drugs get harder to come by because there's such a push to not prescribe and not fulfill prescriptions, people turn to heroin, fentanyl, car fentanyl -- drugs they don’t know as much about, they get on the streets and they don’t know how much they're dosing themselves with and that’s where our over dose rate is gonna rise,” she said.
While the program to follow up with overdose survivors is new, it is so promising that the county is about to expand it to include peer counselors to help the addicts while they wait for inpatient treatment.
It appears to be a success in an epidemic with far more failures.
“Hopefully we can be a model program for other folks around the country. We're here for others who want to replicate and I think we can do a lot of good,” said Apryl Herron, Program Coordinator for Clackamas County Public Health.