ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County health-care providers and law enforcement will join their counterparts from Moore County in a three-year project that will expand access to and the quality of opioid-addiction treatment.
The Sandhills Opioid Response Consortium, as the partners will be called, will use $600,000 in grant financing from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. FirstHealth of the Carolinas will leaded the consortium and will begin holding small work-group meetings in September. Those will lead to full a consortium meeting in October.
By the end of the three years, the consortium aims to have 10 primary-care providers certified to administer medication-assisted treatment for addiction, 20 peer-support addiction specialists — 10 in each county — and to mount an awareness campaign that will concentrate on informing families or friends who know someone struggling with addiction on how to obtain Narcan, the overdose antidote, and other resources, said Roxanne Elliott, policy director with FirstHealth Community Health Services.
“That infrastructure does not exist right now,” Elliott said Friday.
The peer-support specialists will be former addicts who have been in active recovery for two to three years and who, after obtaining the necessary social work certifications — paid for by the grant — will work within the community to inform opioid addicts about how to connect with resources in their counties.
Additionally, the peer specialists will form rapid-response teams in each county to reach out through Emergency Medical Services to those who recently have overdosed, to connect them with treatment options, if the patient is open to them, Elliott said.
To her knowledge, Elliot said, only one primary-care provider in Richmond County has earned certification for medication-assisted treatment, a fact the consortium will look to change. Dr. Jason Jerry, an addiction specialist and medical director of FirstHealth Behavioral Services, cited a “tremendous shortage” of providers with such certification, not just locally but nationally.
Jerry said the consortium would work toward a “hub and spoke” model wherein the hub would be detox services to get addicts off of whatever chemicals they may have in their systems and funnel them into a short-term treatment facility where, after being “stabilized,” they can be referred to a certified primary-care provider who can continue to administer suboxone.
“Some primary-care providers don’t feel comfortable with (the opioid-addicted) patient population because they feel like they’re in over their heads,” Jerry said. “If the (certified) primary-care providers get to a point where they’re struggling, they can call us and talk about what can be done next. We can provide some guidance or also bring (the patient) back into more acute treatment.”
Evidence has shown, Jerry said, that medication-assisted treatment — as opposed to quitting cold turkey — is the most effective means of treating addiction.
Partnering in the consortium are FirstHealth Behavioral Health Services, Drug Free Moore County, the Moore County Health Department, the Richmond County Health Department, the Richmond County Department of Social Services, the Sandhills Center, Community Care of the Sandhills, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office, Alcohol and Drug Services, The Village of Pinehurst Police Department and HealthNC+.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings, Richmond County documented 37 overdoses and a mortality rate of 27 per 100,000 from overdoses from 2013-2015, up from 34 overdoses and a mortality rate of 25 from 2012-2014. Moore County has documented similar increases: 36 overdoses from 2013-2015, with a mortality rate of 13 per 100,000, up from 35 overdoses from 2012-2014. The North Carolina average mortality rate is 14 per 100,000.
Marvin Hudson, training officer for FirstHealth, told attendees at a leadership meeting in December that EMS treated 87 patients for overdose, more than in the previous two years combined. The figure did not distinguish between opioid overdoses and overdoses from other drugs.
Richmond County Health Director Tommy Jarrell pointed to efforts of the Drug Endangered Family Task Force during the past year to gather available drug-abuse data from health-care providers and law enforcement, among others, to inform the public about one of the key steps the county has taken to address the issue.
“Our focus up to this point has been awareness, letting the community know how big the problem is and how it continues to grow,” Jarrell said. “The challenge we face … is that the problems are growing dramatically, and the funding has not been there to address it.”
Jarrell said $600,000 was a “drop in the bucket” in terms of addressing the larger need but was “a great starting point.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]