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For Overdose Survivors, “Warm Handoff” into Treatment is Crucial Step to Recovery

For Overdose Survivors, “Warm Handoff” into Treatment is Crucial Step to Recovery

READING, PA – Acting Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine today discussed the Wolf Administration’s efforts to battle the opioid epidemic during a visit to Reading Hospital, where they highlighted the importance of the “warm handoff” protocol in getting overdose survivors directly into treatment for addiction.

“With the number of overdoses increasing in Pennsylvania, we must focus on first reversing the heroin/opioid overdose with naloxone, and then when survivors are revived, getting them into immediate treatment,” said Smith. “A warm handoff is a way to encourage overdose survivors usually transported to emergency rooms for observation to agree to enter treatment.”

It is critical, said Smith, to get those suffering from substance abuse disorder into treatment. She said the number of deaths from heroin/opioid overdoses in the commonwealth was more than 3,500 in 2015 and is expected to be much higher in 2016.

Governor Tom Wolf’s first focus was to get naloxone into the hands of local and state police and other first responders to save lives. As part of those life-saving efforts, Dr. Levine signed a standing order for naloxone that is available at pharmacies or from the Department of Health website. Anyone can use Dr. Levine’s standing order to obtain naloxone.

“We are working now on the second step on the road to recovery from addiction: warm handoff,” said Smith. “Berks County and Reading Hospital have done a great job in getting overdose survivors to enter treatment and Dr. Chuck Barbera can provide a model for the best way to do it.”

A warm handoff protocol has been developed by the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians and will be distributed statewide for recommended use by emergency room physicians and other health care professionals caring for overdose patients. The protocol/clinical pathway provides guidance on how to counsel an overdose survivor about both the overdose and how to strongly encourage him or her to enter treatment immediately for drug addiction. Last year, the Wolf Administration released warm handoff guidance to emergency room doctors and healthcare professionals to help those suffering from substance use disorder.

“Addressing the opioid crisis requires a comprehensive approach that includes the administration, the legislature and our communities,” said Dr. Levine. “It is crucial to ensure that we expand access to naloxone as proposed in Governor Wolf’s budget and also get those who are saved by naloxone into treatment. Reading Hospital and the Berks County Council on Chemical Abuse have developed a state-of-the-art program that does just that and we recognize their incredible work to defeat the disease of addiction in Pennsylvania.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from the disease of addiction, call 1-800-662-HELP or visit for treatment options.