JEFFERSON — Combatting what officials say is a growing opioid crisis in Ashe County, Ashe Memorial Hospital recently received a grant aimed at creating an extensive plan with community leaders to prevent and treat opioid addictions.

AMH was one of six North Carolina organizations to receive a $200,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Monday, May 13.

“It’s an opioid response program,” AMH CEO Laura Lambeth said. “The planning project is to implement and sustain substance abuse disorder and opioid use disorder in prevention, treatment and recovery services at a rural hospital.”

HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy awarded $24 million for the second round of Rural Communities Opioid Response Program planning grants. Recipients across 40 states will receive $200,000 for one year to formalize partnerships with local stakeholders, conduct needs assessments and develop plans to implement and sustain substance use disorder, including opioid use disorder, prevention, treatment and recovery interventions, according to a release from HRSA.

Other North Carolina recipients include Coastal Horizons Center in Wilmington, North Carolina Healthcare Quality Alliance in Chapel Hill, Robeson Health Care Corporation in Pembroke, United Way of Rutherford County in Forest City and Wilson County Substance Abuse Coalition in Wilson.

“Quite honestly, I didn’t think we had that much of a chance of being awarded,” Lambeth said. “Most of the opioid grants that I’ve seen over the last year have not gone to rural areas. They’ve gone to metropolitan areas, with the perception that the metropolitan areas have a larger problem with opioid abuse, and that’s not true.”

According to a release from AMH, the hospital has chosen to become the lead applicant for the Ashe Opioid Initiative Team. Current consortium members include the hospital, Daymark Recovery Services, the Ashe Community Paramedic Program, Ashe Medics, Ashe County Emergency Management, Vaya Health and more, according to the release. After an initial meeting May 20, Project Director Melodie Shepherd said the next meeting is tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of June 5.

Lambeth said the hospital also plans to partner with local law enforcement, including the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, the Jefferson Police Department and the West Jefferson Police Department.

“Just for Ashe County, we have a high rate of opioid deaths — 7 percent higher than the state average,” Lambeth said. “We have a prescribing rate 22 percent higher than the state. We’re gonna focus on decreasing those numbers.”

Lambeth said the hospital plans to be able to provide high-level treatment for patients with addiction issues.

“Not only treatment, but having a comprehensive plan in order to prevent patients from becoming addicted,” Lambeth said.

Shepherd added that longevity is important to the planning process.

“A key success point to this grant is making sure it’s sustainable — that we have a plan to continue on,” Shepherd said.

While helping those battling addictions is a goal of the process, Lambeth has even bigger aspirations for the group.

“We want to prevent individuals from becoming addicted at all,” Lambeth said. “That’s the key. You don’t want to see them after. You want to put a plan in place where you are working toward prevention for the community.”

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