Florida drug czar tours Tampa General's care command center aimed at stopping drug addiction

Florida drug czar was at Tampa General Hospital Wednesday in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day. While it's a day meant to remember those lost to drug addiction, it's also a call to action. 

TGH has reworked its game plan when dealing with overdose patients to keep them from returning to the emergency department and off drugs. 

Every 94 minutes, someone is admitted to a Tampa Bay emergency department for a non-fatal overdose. At TGH, healthcare workers are taking the lead in these patients' stories by creating a personalized treatment and following up.

State Drug Czar Doug Simon toured their Care Command Center, also known as CareComm.

On a national average, only about 25% patients follow up with their primary care physician emergency department visits. CareComm has helped TGH patients raise that to about 75%, a crucial number when it comes to addiction. 

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"We really have a model program here to treat people with opioid use disorder at Tampa General Hospital where we utilized a medication called buprenorphine – when people are withdrawing from opioid use disorder we know this medication saves lives," Dr. Jason Wilson, a TGH emergency care physician, said. 

Care teams assess what treatments patients need, if they have other conditions, if they need outpatient follow-up or something more intensive. They're paired with a peer certified recovery specialist, who has been there and back. 

"The peer, as appropriate, will share their personal story about model recovery, the model how they will engage with the patient in the way a clinical staff member could not, and they'll get buy-in from the patient for the treatment process," Heather Henderson, the TGH director if social medicine division of emergency medicine. 

They hope this continuous system of care is the key to breaking the cycle of opioid addiction. 

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"This is really cutting edge. Not a lot of other states are doing anything like this," Simon said. "We're piloting it across the state at about 12 other locations."

"At the end of the day, it takes a lot of stress off the first responders, especially because they don't keep returning with the same customers each time, you know, the same overdose victims," Simon said. "It's really going to help the whole system, not to mention the families that are going through this problem."

Cesar Rodriguez has been in recovery for eight years from a heroin addiction.

"I was a 17-year opiate addict," Rodriguez said. "I've had five overdoses that I was brought back with Narcan."

Without a plan at the hospital, in his case, "they get you on your feet and they send you out the door. And I'd go back right into the same situation that I left."

He believes programs like the one at Tampa General will help many people battling for sobriety. "The wraparound care is huge."

Rodriguez is a husband, father of two, and manages a roofing company. He's proof that recovery is possible, no matter how many times you stumble.

"It doesn't matter what you're going through," he said, "you can succeed, and you can rise above all of this, you know, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other."