07/11/18 — Health Department nets $150,000 to combat opioid crisis

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Health Department nets $150,000 to combat opioid crisis

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 11, 2018 5:50 AM

Wayne County Health Department is working to make good use of state grant funding received to tackle the opioid crisis in this community.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced last month that 12 communities would split $1.5 million in grant awards to implement projects and advance the goals of the N.C. Opioid Action Plan.

Wayne County stands to benefit from up to $150,000 from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, officials said. The one-time, state-funded grants must be used between July 1 and June 30, 2019, said local Health Director Davin Madden.

"We were allowed to ask for up to $150,000 -- they have a ceiling on this grant," he said. "We got the maximum allowed."

The Health Department's proposal is layered, he said, beginning with recruiting an overdose prevention coordinator. Ideally, it would be someone with a strong background related to substance abuse, he said.

DHHS received 99 applicants for for the funding, vying to gain support for projects covering all 100 counties in the state.

In addition to Wayne County, other recipients include the Appalachian District Health Department and the Watauga County Sheriff's Office; Appalachian Mountain Community Health Center; Bakersville Community Medical Clinic; C.W. Wiliams Community Health Center; Fayetteville Area Health Education Foundation/Southern regional Area Health Education Center, which services 32 counties, including Wayne; Haywood Pathways Center; Johnston County Public Health Department; Lumbee Tribe of N.C.; Metropolitan County Health Services Inc.; Public Health Authority of Cabarrus County/Cabarrus HealthAlliance; and Scotland Count Health Department.

Local partnerships will play a big part in the effective dissemination of the monetary award, Madden said.

The way it has been working to date, he said, is that anytime a person has an adverse reaction to an opioid, whether or not there is an overdose, that person is usually taken to the hospital for treatment.

"We have worked out agreements with the hospital and Sheriff's Office and eventually will do that with other law enforcement," he said. "We already have an arrangement with the hospital that we would get referrals for our coordinator to assign response teams."

The aim will be to assess the patient's needs, then link the patient to services, be it a counselor or peer support -- "someone they can call in the middle of the night" so to speak, Madden said.

"The peer support specialist would work with the person and talk with them, assist them," he said. "The ultimate goal is to try to redirect that person's behavior."

The overdose prevention coordinator would also be tracking the patient, in an effort to prevent relapse.

Training for first responders is another critical component, the health director said.

"All law enforcement around Wayne County have been trained on how to administer nasal Naloxone (an antidote used to reverse opioid overdose)," he said. "Most EMTs are very comfortable in injecting it and we wanted to bring that comfort level so they feel they can make the best assessment when they get on the scene."

As cases of opioid abuse have risen in recent years, so has there been an increase in "next level" drugs, such as heroin as it is sometimes more available and affordable for those unable to get prescriptions renewed and seeking to satisfy that addiction.

This has not always been categorized as a public health issue, Madden said, but became more so when the number of overdoses and subsequent deaths began to spike.

"It wasn't something that public health was brought in on, even though we knew that overprescribing of medications has been a problem for probably the past two decades," he said.

As the laws change, and with it the way habit-forming medications are prescribed, there have been increasing concerns across the board on how to alleviate the problem.

The N.C. Opioid Action Plan, launched in June 2017, identifies key strategies to combat the epidemic, including expanding treatment and recovery oriented systems of care.

For such programs to succeed, it is important to be more proactive, Madden said.

"Here in Wayne County we do have limited treatments," he said. "We don't have an in-depth measure or materials locally. We have basically one methadone clinic, a few medication treatment providers, a couple transitional places.

"We can try to connect these dots and align all of the people that are involved -- the stakeholders that interact with substance abusers."

Efforts are being made to restrict the number of opioids being prescribed, in an effort to avoid consecutive overdoses, with an eye toward having a safety net approach, especially for those who may not have a support system in place.

The Health Department is still fleshing out its approach to combatting the problem, Madden said, but considering the longtime lack of staff and funding, is especially appreciative for the grant funding.

It could even result in one having the issue categorized as a chronic disease, he said.

"When it comes to drug use -- I can't speak for the nation but I know generally Americans have a very skewed view of drug use and what a 'drug user' looks like," he said.

"What we're having to learn now is, these are your sons and daughters, it could be a person you go to church with, your co-workers, these are normal people that have an issue."