Local group waging battle on opioid-related overdoses

Number of deaths is expected to rise in 2019

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – Last weekend in Harris County, they were 11 opioid-related overdoses.

Each month, there's an average of 100 opioid-related overdoses and in 2018 there were 275 deaths.

That number is expected to rise in 2019 and that's why a group called HEROES, Houston Emergency Opioid Engagement System, said they're working to intervene in the grips of addiction.

Adam Schievelbein, a Houstonian, said six months ago he was dealing and doing drugs, went to jail, lost relationships, jobs and homes before he hit rock bottom and decided to get help. Today, he said his life has turned around.

"I have a house," Schievelbein said. "I'm not living in the back of a car anymore. I went and visited my mom for Christmas."

To start the journey of recovery, he worked with recovery coach, Jessica Yeager, who was once on drugs herself.

"I know exactly how you're feeling, I've been there before... let me help you. Let me love you until you can love yourself again," she said.

Yeager works with HEROES and the Houston Recovery Center to get names from the Houston Fire Department about suspected overdose cases, then she knocks on the doors of patients and offers her services.

Dr. James Langabeer from UT Health created the HEROES program in Houston and also connects recovery coaches (like Yeager) to suspected overdoses that check into the emergency room.

"What I saw was there's a huge opportunity where people are coming into the emergency departments across the city and often for overdoses and we didn't know what to do with them," Langabeer said.

The problem with going to the hospital is that after they're discharged, they're sent right back to the environment where they overdosed in the first place.

"They often get discharged after a couple of hours of observation they're back on the street and we see them again the next day," Langabeer said.

However, with HEROES, Langabeer said patients are immediately given medication to aid with withdrawal symptoms and given behavioral counseling.

"All you have to have is willingness," Yeager said.

Only a few cities cross the country are able to offer services like this with funding from grants.

Last month, when KPRC interviewed U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, he said these programs may be the best chance at saving lives.

Adams said his brother is in prison for crimes he committed while addicted to opioids.

"It really is the best practice and I'm glad to see folks here using it in Houston," Adams said.

Langabeer said one in three patients they approach agrees to join the program.

Schievelbein said he still cannot believe how quickly it helped him change his life. He said the day he met Yeager and agreed to be part of HEROES was the last day he took any drugs.

"There was no, 'this is going to take a minute,' or 'you know you're going to have to wait for a bed to become available,'" Schievelbein said that was the main difference from other rehabilitation programs he attempted. "No, it was literally Dr. Langabeer saying 'OK let's go.'"

He was given a prescription, place to live and a path to sobriety. 

"I have my life back, you know? Like I'm actually living the life that I was intended to live," Schievelbein said.

If you'd like to contact HEROES, e-mail heroes@uth.tmc.edu or call 713-500-3597.