GREENSBURG (KDKA) — While the opioid epidemic continues to speed out of control, treatment specialists in Westmoreland County are working on a new way to help addicts.

If anyone thinks the numbers on opioid overdose deaths in Westmoreland County are improving, the news is not good.

“We’re going to have 211 deaths in Westmoreland County this year,” Dirk Matson, director of Westmoreland Human Services, said. “No, it’s getting a lot worse.”

State numbers put the number of opioid overdose deaths in Pennsylvania last year at more than 4,800.

“This is the biggest health crisis of our time,” state physician general Dr. Rachel Levine said. “The numbers are staggering.”

Dr. Levine was at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital to hear about how the health care group is battling the war on opioid overdose deaths.

“Our hope is that we can immediately upon revival of the overdose victim, provide them with an opportunity to involve themselves in treatment,” George Mizikar, of Excela Health, said.

It starts in the emergency room with an evaluation and a trigger diagnosis that’s put into the hospital system. It’s called a warm hand off. From the emergency room or in the ICU, the addiction victim can get a lot more than just Narcan. It’s a path to beating the addiction, not just treating another overdose – essentially, a “no wrong door” policy.

“We move beyond the medical treatment,” Mizikar said. “We move beyond the immediate crisis into what’s going to happen next in order to help them down the road.”

Hailed as vital, the program will only help so much, according to experts. That is until opioid pharmaceutical stewardship improves.

“We don’t want people to suffer, but because of the opioid crisis, in terms of overdoses, healthcare professionals have to learn to use them very carefully and judiciously,” Levine said.

Levine says the methods being used here to treat addicts may seem expensive, but they are a lot less expensive than treating a person over and over for an addiction. As for the human cost, it’s much less expensive than losing another life.

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