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'Care Navigators' Hit The Front Lines In Opioid Addiction Battle

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WASHINGTON, Pa. (KDKA) -- Janae Daukantas is on the front lines of the opioid crisis, driving the streets and backroads of heroin-ravaged Washington County.

"It's every day I hear somebody has passed away from opioid use," she said. "So we're pretty much right in the thick of it."

The epidemic has made Janae a different kind of drug counselor. She's called a "care navigator," one who seeks out the addict instead of waiting for them to come to her. She makes house calls, encouraging those actively addicted to get treatment and supporting those already trying to get clean.

She visited one addict named Tyler, who has struggled in his fight with heroin. He's now on methadone and trying to become drug free.

"A lot of close friends of mine are dead because of this epidemic that's been going on," he said. "I do not want to be a statistic at all."

The navigators are part of the state's Centers for Excellence initiative to combat the opioid crisis. The program was developed and run locally by Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services, Inc., whose care center director, Kellie McKevitt, just couldn't stand by with so many dying of overdoses.

"We wanted to use a design that wasn't sitting back, waiting for people to come to treatment, hoping that they would be ready," she said. "We wanted to say to them, 'We care enough about you that we're gonna come out and we're going to keep coming out.'"

Navigators like Janae have embraced that.

"My biggest thing with my clients is I want to meet them where they are, not only physically and in their environment, but mentally and emotionally too," she said. "So they know that I'm here for them and they can trust me."

A recovering addict herself, 8 years clean, Janae immediately establishes that trust as one who's been there.

"I tell my clients right off the bat, 'I've been there. I've been at the bottom with you. I know exactly where you're at. I can help you when you're ready,'" she said.

One of her most successful clients is Mindy Bates, who has been drug free for 18 months. She attributes her recovery to Janae's support and the frequent visits from her and other navigators.

"Anything you need, you can call them, and it's just as though you're speaking to someone who's a friend, someone who's non-judgmental," Bates said. "They help because a lot of them also have been in the same situations."

While all of her calls are not so successful, Janae hopes to make an impression on those who reject her offer for treatment.

"We're just here for them, and we're here when they're ready, basically," she said.

It's a unique program of outreach that's finding success one life at a time.

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