Agencies focus resources on treatment, prevention
The statistics connected with opioids can be grim, but an intense local and state effort has helped reverse that tide in Okanogan County, providing many new resources to confront the crisis.
There were nine confirmed opioid deaths in Okanogan County in 2018, and four others are awaiting toxicology reports, according to Tim Hargraves, opioid resources outreach coordinator for Okanogan County Public Health.
A decade ago, Okanogan County had 101 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. But in 2017, that had dropped to 64 prescriptions per 100 people.
Family Health Centers received a $1.2-million grant last year to start an opioid-treatment network at several of its clinics across the county. The grant will increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help people with opioid-use disorder to get into treatment, according to Kathleen Manseau, program manager of the treatment network.
The grant will also help medical providers obtain authorization to dispense the drugs that can help people manage their addiction.
Up-to-date medical research shows that people have a much better chance of recovery through MAT than under older models such as methadone, which is addictive and requires a daily dose, or going cold turkey, said Manseau.
Family Health Centers’ partners in the treatment network are the three county hospitals, Okanogan County Public Health, and Okanogan Behavioral Healthcare.
The Methow Valley School District got a $10,000 grant from North Central Accountable Community of Health (NCACH) to increase education about substance-abuse prevention. The project includes focus groups with students, teachers and parents regarding drug use and abuse and a review of curriculums. The district plans to pilot a substance-abuse-prevention curriculum this spring.
Last week, a dozen people got training in the use of naloxone (Narcan), a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. They went home with free kits with the life-saving drug, which can be administered by anyone. The training was part of a conference organized by NCACH, which provided up-to-date research about opioid use and abuse in Washington, and information about treatment for addiction and pain management.
The attendees at the regional conference — including dozens who attended a teleconference at Liberty Bell High School — also brainstormed new initiatives that could help make a difference in the Methow Valley.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit last week against the three largest distributors of prescription opioids in Washington, arguing that they failed to alert law enforcement of suspicious opioid orders. The suit alleges that the drug makers illegally shipped huge amounts of oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone and other prescription opioids.
Opioid use often starts when people get a prescription after an injury or surgery, said Hargraves. In some cases, people get addicted in days; others struggle with long-term pain management, said Hargraves. When the prescription gets cut off, people look for cheaper alternatives like heroin or fentanyl on the street, said Hargraves.
Okanogan County is one of the first rural counties in the country to offer a program where people can get information about opioids just by texting. Through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Washington 211 program, the initiative provides services based on the person’s zip code, said Hargraves.
Using the texting program, a person can get general information about opioids and resources to help with addiction and recovery. It also provides a way for clinicians to sign up for a registry.
Public Health received a grant from the CDC to learn the extent of the overall drug problem in the county. They are conducting a brief survey to find out which drugs pose the most serious problem.
Public Health also operates a needle exchange.
To get information about opioids, text OPIOID to 898211.
To complete the Public Health survey about drug use in the county, go to www.surveymonkey.com/r/GZ6GBKL.
For more information, call Public Health at (509) 422-7140.