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Lakewood Fire Station #1 becomes safe zone for heroin addicts with launch of Project SOAR

Posted at 4:35 PM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-01 18:22:22-05

While the White House and the nation's leaders are working on solutions to the country’s gripping opioid crisis, the city of Lakewood is taking matters into their own hands.

A pilot program for rapid overdose response has just been created through a partnership with the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board, Cleveland Clinic Lakewood Emergency Department and the Woodrow Project.

It is called Project SOAR — Supporting Opioid Addiction Recovery.

One of the main components is the creation of Lakewood Fire Station #1 on Madison Avenue as a “safe station” where addicts can go any time of the day or night to seek help.

“We picked the fire station because we’re always here, 24/7,” said Fire Chief Scott Gilman.

Users or addicts can show up at the fire station and immediately get a medical evaluation and then be connected to a peer support specialist — a former addict who knows their struggle firsthand.

The idea to use the fire station as a safe station came from the successful model used in Manchester, New Hampshire, Chief Gilman said

"Our goal is to get people help, not to prosecute them for what they’re going through," Gilman said.

Lakewood has been one of the hardest hit suburbs, with overdoses and overdose deaths spiking in 2016 and 2017.

“We couldn't sit idly by and watch this happen,” said Katie Kurtz, clinical manager for Lakewood’s Department of Human Services. “We wanted to do something, but we’re a municipality so there’s only so much we can do.”

Lakewood Mayor Summers and city council passed a resolution in February 2017 to label the opioid epidemic a public health crisis.

Project SOAR also contains home visits and access to treatment. Since it launched in December, 12 people have been helped, Kurtz said. Lakewood is piloting the program to see if it can be effective in other cities in Ohio.

Below are statistics for opioid overdoses and deaths in Lakewood:

2014 - 53 overdoses, 12 deaths
2015 - 46 overdoses, 9 deaths
2016 - 141 overdoses, 31 deaths
2017 - 126 overdoses, 20 deaths

There have been six deaths so far in 2018.