Emergency Department Overdose Response Peer role an Ontario First

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Emergency Department Overdose Response Peer role an Ontario First

Cambridge, Ontario – Stonehenge Therapeutic Community in partnership with Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH) have added a unique role to the Emergency Department (ED) that will reduce the harm associated with complex substance use and addictions. A first in Ontario, the overdose response peer is a person with lived experience who has training in addictions and supportive counselling.

“The peer initiates support with the individual in the Emergency Department, offering harm reduction strategies to avoid another overdose or help to navigate what can be a complex recovery system. With their training a peer can adapt to where the person is at in their substance use or recovery journey, says Heather Kerr, executive director, Stonehenge. “The crisis of an overdose may also create a different perspective to a patient’s substance use and provide a need for some kind of change. The peer is what makes the real difference as they can relate and provide hope from their own experience and recovery journey,” adds Kerr.

The program is based on a model that started in Rhode Island, USA, where they saw 81% of those seen by a peer engaged in harm reduction or recovery supports after discharge. CMH was approached by Stonehenge to first initiate the program because Cambridge has the highest death rates due to overdose. Before being implemented at the hospital, consultation with first responders and stakeholders including families was done to ensure the model was adapted to Cambridge’s unique environment.

“It was an opportunity that we did not want to miss because these cases are becoming more prevalent,” says Rita Sharratt, director, Clinical Programs, CMH, adding: “Because there is only one peer, we looked at the data to come up with a schedule that would coincide with those needing this support. If the peer coach is not here, our clinicians can make referrals like they do with any other specialist so that follow-up can be made later. While these are early days, I can say that the addition of someone with this training and knowledge is a valuable asset to our team.” 

Since implementation, Waterloo Region EMS has also shown great support for the overdose response peer role as they are usually the first to come into contact with the person, family or friends at the site of the overdose.