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Crowley/Otero health departments get $91,911 grant to combat opioid addiction

Christian Burney
LA Junta Tribune

Crowley/Otero Health Departments received a $91,911 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, thanks to a group of public health and research officials who are looking to expand a community coalition of advocates battling opioid abuse.

The grant stemmed from the Health Resources and Services Administration Office's Rural Communities Opioid Response Program.

The goal of the coalition is to "change the conversation around prescribing and the ingestion of even legal opioids," as Terri Schreiber of Schreiber Research Group put it at the Otero Board of County Commissioners meeting Monday.

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Leaders in the coalition visited with Otero County leaders Monday to discuss their platform and to ask commissioners to lend their support by joining the coalition and attending monthly meetings to help improve community engagement in the program.

Otero County Health Department coalition and staff member Arlene Cook described the Overdose Data 2 Action Grant, the specific grant awarded by the health administration.

"This (program goal) will be achieved by enhancing prevention programming, preventative programming and community collaboration," said Cook. "OCHD will implement public awareness, community education, provider education and community-level intervention prevention strategies."

An opioid awareness and prevention coalition attended the Monday Board of County Commissioner's meeting to request support in raising awareness about the dangers and risks of even legal prescription opioids.

The state health department is supporting Crowley/Otero's Overdose Data 2 Action program because the southeast region of Colorado is trending higher than the state average in opioid overdoses, Cook added.

In late 2020 as the Bent and Crowley prison utilization public input hearings were approaching, Crowley/Otero Health Director Rick Ritter described counties of rural Southeast Colorado as impoverished with struggling economies.

The economic landscape, Ritter explained, leads the state in "negative risk behaviors" and poor health outcomes regarding substance abuse.

So far through the program, the coalition distributes Narcan — a nasal spray that can help reverse or quell an opioid overdose — to prevent overdose deaths, and "sharps" containers that Schreiber said can be used to safely store and dispose of used needles.

"What we need is more coalition members, helping getting community involvement and community stigma reduction," said Cook.

Lori Lopez of Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment explained that the Pueblo health department is working with Crowley and Otero health departments on the opioid awareness programs. The Pueblo health department is the primary grantee and Crowley/Otero counties are the subcontractors.

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Also participating in the programs is Schreiber Research Group, which is performing data analysis on opioid use and abuse figures in the areas of Bent, Crowley and Otero counties.

"The grant started in October 2020 and we've all been working together to put together a needs assessment and gap analysis that HRSA requires for this grant," Lopez said.

Lopez said the coalition has also been working to recruit volunteer community leadership and members.

"Since this is really a community planning grant, we can't do the work without all of you and without input from the community since this is really about and for Otero/Crowley," Lopez said.

Under the health administration's grant program the coalition needs to meet one to two times a month in order to perform a needs assessment and gap analysis, and it has to develop a strategic action plan based on findings from the assessment.

The coalition meetings could serve as training opportunities on Opioid Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorder. They would also serve as a place to present and review future funding opportunities for program support and implementation such as for future health administration grants that coalition members already have their eyes on.

Other funding opportunities include opioid litigation settlement fund, or the funds awarded after successful litigation by a city, county or tribal nation against larger pharmaceutical companies.

"We're just trying to spread the word and build programs," Lopez said. "Hopefully in the future (we have) continued funding around preventing opioid use and also treating those that are struggling with addiction disease."

Lopez invited commissioners to attend the next coalition meeting scheduled for March 16, where Schreiber will present her findings from the needs assessment and gap analysis to identify area overdose death rates, gaps in services and other actionable items. The meeting is being planned to be hosted on Zoom.