Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image Craig PoVey, prevention administrator for the State of Utah, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, speaks at the “Opioid Misuse and Abuse Prevention Night,” held in April 2018 at Clarke N. Johnsen Junior High School.

August 15, 2019
Local agencies win $1M grant to help fight opioid abuse

Tooele County healthcare agencies will receive more than $1 million in federal grant money next month to bolster opioid prevention and recovery efforts in the county, local health officials say.

 “The money will be used to bridge prevention, treatment and recovery services in the county,” said Dr. Maren Wright Voss, health agent of Utah State University-Tooele Extension. She helped submit applications for the grant.

USU-Tooele Health Extension, Valley Mental Health, Tooele County Health Department and Mountain West Medical Center emergency department have formed a three-year alliance in effort to address the county’s opioid abuse problem. The group is called the Tooele Rural Opioid Healthcare Consortium. 

“As part of the proposal, all of these groups committed their willingness to play a role,” Voss said. “Tooele is great as far as people working together for the community good.”

She said $1 million will be received from the Health Resources and Services Administration and $175,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with USU broadcast education programming.

The HRSA funds will directly support pain education, alternative pain management programs (i.e., cognitive therapy, yoga, and mindfulness), and disease prevention for community members, according to Voss. Some funds will also be used to educate healthcare professionals. New programs will directly address gaps in treatment services in Tooele County. 

The money will also pay for a clinical coordinator for the next three years at an annual rate of about $50,000 per year. This person will provide clinical support and training to the community parties, Voss said.

The grant funds will also provide evidence-based interventions for health care professionals and first responders, like stigma reduction and disease prevention coordination and tracking.

Meanwhile, the USDA grant will allow residents in the recovery community to get trained as lay-professionals to increase the treatment. 

Also helping with the three-year project is Dr. Sandra Sulzer, assistant professor at Kinesiology & Health Science Department at USU.

She said that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tooele County currently has the second highest opioid-related mortality rate in the state.

The need for melding programs to reduce opioid abuse in Tooele County is critical, according to a study by researchers from Westminster College in Salt Lake City last year.

Researchers reported that Utah ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of opioid-related deaths.

The rate of opioid deaths in Tooele County was 33.6 per 100,000 people. This is higher than the state average, which is 22.29 per 100,000 people. The 2016 national average was 19 per 100,000 people.

Voss said statistics for opioid-related deaths in Tooele County could be somewhat misleading because sometimes people who live outside the county die while in Tooele County from opioid abuse. 

She said opioid related emergency visits are particularly high in Tooele at 1.3 times the state average.

Scott Rounds, emergency department director at MWMC, lauded the grant funding.

“With solid community partnerships, we will make a positive impact in the lives of our neighbors and loved ones who are in need of effective and safe pain management,” Rounds said.

Valley Behavioral Health had already instituted a number of prevention programs and MWMC teamed up with the health department to launch the 2018 “Speak Out, Opt Out, Throw Out” awareness campaign last year. 

 “The opioid epidemic is one of our community’s greatest challenges and public health has made it a priority to address this issue,” said Amy Bate, health promotion coordinator/public information officer at the Tooele County Health Department. “Evidence supports that a sustainable, comprehensive public health approach results in significant decreases in preventable opioid overdose deaths, prevents disease, and saves lives.”

The HRSA grant supports this training by funding ongoing supervision for new Peer Support Specialist lay professionals.

Peer to peer support is not a new concept; it was used as a model by Aristotle, Voss said. But the approach is gaining new ground in the medical field. While healthcare is typically thought to be the domain of experts, there is new recognition in behavioral health that people who have experience with illness have unique expertise. 

Voss said agencies recognize that personal experience can be highly beneficial in treating mental and substance misuse issues.

Rural regions have even more to gain from the lay-professional PSS workforce, she said.

“Without full-service in-patient or residential treatment facilities to rely on, a peer support specialist can offer nearby and ready recovery support to rural residents,” Voss said. “The grant funding will amp up disease prevention efforts and offer the support programs and alternative pain management options that are so needed for responsible opioid management.”

She said if someone seeks education on living with chronic pain, to contact her about the new grant funded program offerings that will begin later this year.

Call 435-277-2400 for more information. Voss can also be reached at 435-277-2409 and at maren.voss@usu.edu.

Mark Watson

Sports Editor at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Mark directs all editorial coverage of sports in addition to reporting on a wide range of events from high school football to international racing. He has a wealth of journalism experience, having worked for four other newspapers in the state. Mark grew up in Tooele County and graduated from Grantsville High School and Brigham Young University.

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