Caitlin Sullivan

Caitlin Sullivan of New River Family Wellness designates tasks related to harm reduction initiatives during day two of the Ashe Substance Misuse Coalition strategic planning session Friday, Oct. 25, at Jefferson Landing.

JEFFERSON — Falling in line with the concerted effort to increase substance misuse awareness in Ashe County, the Ashe Substance Misuse Coalition held a two-day planning session Thursday and Friday, Oct. 24-25, to discuss strategies for moving forward.

The session, held at Jefferson Landing, brought together more than 50 representatives from local and regional nonprofits, law enforcement agencies, first responders, health organizations and other community groups with the goal of developing a strategic plan to address substance misuse in Ashe County.

The coalition was formed after Ashe Memorial Hospital received a $200,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy in May. Members of the coalition include include AMH, Daymark Recovery Services, the Ashe Community Paramedic Program, Ashe Medics, Ashe County Emergency Management, Vaya Health and more.

“I think the biggest thing that we have to do as a coalition and through education is break the stigma,” Program Director Melodie Shepherd said. “I think we’re cracking the ceiling.”

Shepherd explained that the stigma commonly associated with substance misuse is that addiction is a choice. The goal of the ASMC is to show that addiction, or substance misuse, is a disease rather than a choice.

“If a diabetic came into the E.R., we wouldn’t deny them insulin,” Shepherd said. “So, why would we deny someone Naloxone?”

Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is the opioid antagonist administered to overdose victims in an emergency situation to reverse the effects of an overdose. During the ASMC’s strategic planning session, plans were discussed to increase the distribution of Naloxone at various locations across the county, as well as provide training on how to administer Naloxone.

The two-day session formed specific subgroups, each with targeted goals to achieve during the next few months. Focuses for each group included harm reduction initiatives, community education, outreach and resources, and a post-overdose response team.

For harm reduction initiatives, the group will be focusing on increasing the distribution of Naloxone within the Ashe County Emergency Department, local schools, outpatient clinics and churches, as well as local first responders. The group will also work to increase lockbox distribution and seek ways to increase pharmacy engagement with safe prescribing.

According to data shared by the ASMC during the planning session, outpatient opioid pills dispensed per person in Ashe County totaled 89.6 in 2016 — about 20 more pills than the state average.

Safe prescriber training for doctors at AMH is ongoing, Shepherd said, as the state requires doctors to complete the training at least every three years as a part of their state-mandated Continuing Medical Education.

According to a Needs Assessment Analysis conducted by the coalition, 79.2 percent of the 72 responses reported a need for more community prevention activities. Around 73 percent said the community is in need of more education and awareness initiatives.

The community-focused group was tasked with a number of goals aimed at addressing the survey’s responses, including community education in areas such as schools and churches, increasing online resources and developing a one-page resource guide to help substance misusers find help.

“They might not want treatment now, but at 2 a.m. on Thursday they might wake up and decide, ‘I have a card in my pocket with a therapist’s name on it, I could call them,’” Dakota Todd, AMH project manager of grants, said.

The EMS-led post-overdose response team will partner with law enforcement and peer support specialists at AppHealthCare and Daymark, Shepherd said.

As a whole, the coalition plans to combat the opioid crisis by creating new strategies and partnerships in the community. As each group continues to work on developing these new strategies, ASMC plans to provide overdose prevention training, education, treatment and recovery services.

Each group will report back to the ASMC on Wednesday, Nov. 6, to discuss progress related to their tasks. For more information, contact Dakota Todd at dakota.wilson@ashememorial.org.

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