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Mon County Quick Response Team recognized by U.S. Attorney’s office

MORGANTOWN — The gold standard.

A model and mentor for aspiring agencies.


In just over three years, the Monongalia County Quick Response Team has grown from one of five pilot programs created in West Virginia to help stem a tidal wave of overdose deaths to a national example of what can happen when a cross-section of agencies puts community ahead of ego.

It will be recognized with a United States Attorney Award later this month in Clarksburg by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District William Ihlenfeld.

The QRT concept isn’t difficult to understand — bring anybody and everybody who can help identify, contact and provide services to individuals abusing substances to one table with a singular goal of keeping people alive.

In Monongalia County, that’s a lengthy list ranging from the county health department, EMS providers and first responders, to treatment specialists, hospitals, faith-based organizations, social service agencies and many others.

That, West Virginia Sober Living Executive Director Jon Dower explained, is one of the major reasons why the Mon County QRT is successful.

“This is what it’s going to take. It’s going to take our agencies across the state to stop working in silos and start working in the sandbox together,” he said, explaining he also works in another of the state’s more-populous counties.

“It is the antithesis of what we see in Mon County. No one wants to work together. They all want to fight over a specific pot of money. There are all these, ‘This happened 15 years ago with this agency so we don’t want them involved.’ And there are people who, unfortunately, are dying because of that.”

In its inception, the MCQRT was largely an effort to quickly connect overdose victims with recovery and social services.

It’s doing that.

The team’s peer recovery personnel, who serve as tip of the spear in the local model, have contacted more than 1,300 referrals, nearly half of whom were connected to some form of treatment.

More recently, there’s been a greater push toward prevention through the distribution of Narcan — a life-saving drug used to reverse the effects of overdose.

Stacy Bishop, public affairs specialist for the Northern District US Attorney’s Office, said the prevalence of fentanyl, which is showing up in everything from cannabis to vape cartridges to bootleg “pressed pills,” has all but eliminated any margin for error and greatly increased the need for Narcan access and education.

“Many times now, even here on WVU’s campus, though they don’t like to talk about it, but students are overdosing one time. They’re trying something once. They think they’re trying Xanax or they think they’re trying Adderall and they’re overdosing in their apartments and in their dorm rooms,” she said.  “It doesn’t discriminate, and the fact that such a small amount can take someone’s life should terrify all of us because it’s everywhere.”

Joe Klass, a threat preparedness specialist with the Monongalia County Health Department and assistant QRT coordinator, said the cost of failure is a major motivating factor.

“This is a public health, homeland security, social service, healthcare tragedy, issue, hazard that needs to be fought on the ground. Most of the time that’s going to be local responses and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “We have to fight back because this is affecting everything.”

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