Community education and health groups awarded $200K grant

BIG RAPIDS — Four local stakeholders recently applied for and received a $200,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help combat opioid abuse.

Spectrum Health, Ferris State University, Community Mental Health for Central Michigan and the District Health Department No. 10 will use the funds, awarded by the Healthy Reasons and Services Administration, to develop a Rural Opioid Prevention Network over the next year.

The goal of the network is to develop a plan to reduce the occurrence of opioid use disorder (OUD) from new and at-risk users, as well as preventing opioid-related overdoses.

“Bringing together these four members is really an ideal way of going about prevention,” stated Ferris State University assistant professor for public health Fathima Wakeel, who worked as a lead on the project, in a press release issued this week. “We all recognize that opioid abuse is an issue, and we all know there’s a lot of need, so I think we have an ideal partnership.”

The grant, awarded in May, requires the consortium to assess the services currently in the county and to develop a strategic plan to address any gaps, Wakeel stated. Wakeel said the project also will include discussions with community stakeholders and a review of prevention programs in place throughout the state, especially in rural areas.

Ultimately, the team will formulate a sustainability plan to address workforce needs, training and curriculum needed to assist in opioid use prevention.

Spectrum Health manager of community education for Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals Scott Lombard said the organizations have worked together on an opioid taskforce at FSU previously, so the partnership is a natural one.

“The right players are at the table,” he said.

Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital also works with Ten16 Recovery Network in a program where a contracted employee works seven days a week in the emergency department during second shift to identify patients who need substance abuse treatment, Lombard said.

“I don’t think people know how bad it is,” he said.

In the nine months ending in March, the program helped 122 people, with more than 75 patients getting treatment, joining a peer support group or being referred to mental health.

“That changes people’s lives,” Lombard said.

Another related program is the medication and needle take-back program, which has netted 451 pounds of medication and 260 pounds of needles since August 2018 from throughout Mecosta, Lake and Osceola counties. The next medication and needle take-back event is June 27 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Big Rapids Hospital lobby.

While progress is being made, everyone agrees there’s much work yet to be done.

“There is a significant presence of behavioral and environmental risk factors among residents of Mecosta County that are associated with opioid use disorder,” Beth Langenburg, Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals’ COO stated.

“We recognize the lack of available prevention resources within the county and that a successful program requires multiple agencies working in collaboration,” she added.

Langenburg said the group’s goal is to have the plan complete by April 30, 2020, with hopes of garnering an even larger implementation grant next year.

Catherine Beagle, program director for Community Mental Health for Central Michigan, is among the champions for action.

“The reality is we discovered there is a gap in our community to provide services and prevention for individuals who are addicted to opioids,” she said.

Beagle said progress is being made because the collaboration work had begun even before the grant was awarded. The group already worked to fill the need for increased availability of Narcan, a nasal spray to reverse the effects of overdoses.

“When we see a problem, we come together to address it,” she said.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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