Tooele County’s fight to reduce opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths has made progress through public awareness initiatives, like the “Speak Out, Opt Out and Throw Out Opioids” campaign started a year ago by local government, law enforcement and healthcare officials.
More evidence of progress: During the campaign’s launch, a local physician said greater effort was also being made not to prescribe more narcotics to patients than is necessary.
But the bar has just been raised to push public awareness to greater levels, and to better help local citizens who are suffering the anguish and personal ruin — and possible death — from opioid addiction.
As reported on the front page of the Aug. 15 edition, Tooele County healthcare agencies will receive more than $1.17 million in federal grants to increase and bring together opioid prevention, treatment and recovery services in the county.
Agencies taking part include USU-Tooele Health Extension, Valley Mental Health, Tooele County Health Department and Mountain West Medical Center’s emergency department. They have formed an alliance, called the Tooele Rural Opioid Healthcare Consortium, to confront the county’s opioid abuse problem.
Of the grants, $1 million is from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and $175,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with Utah State University.
The HRSA funds will directly support pain education, alternative pain management programs and disease prevention for community members, said Dr. Maren Wright Voss, health agent at USU-Tooele Extension. Funds will also be used to educate healthcare professionals, while new programs will directly address gaps in treatment services in Tooele County, she said.
Furthermore, funds will pay for evidence-based interventions for health care professionals and first responders, and to train citizens in the opioid recovery community to serve as lay-professionals to increase local treatment services.
Called Peer Support Specialists, the approach utilizes citizens who have experience with opioid addiction. Such support could prove invaluable since Tooele County doesn’t yet have a full-service in-patient or residential treatment facility. Local Peer Support Specialists can offer ready recovery help to citizens who need it, Voss said.
All of which comes as welcomed news. Because according to health officials, Tooele County has the second highest opioid-related mortality rate in the state, and more opioid-related emergency visits than the state average. Another alarming comparison: the rate of opioid deaths in the County is 33.6 per 100,000 while the national average is 19 per 100,000. Furthermore, a recent study by Westminster College in Salt Lake City says the need for melding programs to reduce opioid abuse in Tooele County is “critical.”
The county’s opioid abuse problem has been called “epidemic” by local health officials. But thanks to the federal grants, and Tooele County citizens acclaim for working together for the community good, the bar has been raised to hopefully lower the problem’s prevalence.
The grants and consortium also show that the local fight to prevent further opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths is transcending from words and plans to purposeful action rooted in direct public health intervention. To win the fight will take nothing less.