by Kate Evans
The Morgan County Partnership was awarded a one-year $200,000 Rural Communities Opioid Response Program planning grant to help end the opioid crisis.
The grant is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
West Virginia received a total of $600,000 in HRSA grants –$200,000 for Berkeley Springs, $200,000 for Huntington and $200,000 for Buckhannon.
Grant funding will go towards developing local partnerships, conducting needs assessments and developing plans for prevention, treatment and recovery interventions for substance use disorder including opioid use disorder in high-risk rural communities, according to a Health Resources and Services Administration press release.
Goals of the grant are to reduce drug deaths and overcome the rural challenges in providing prevention, treatment and recovery services.
Morgan County Partnership executive director Kristen Gingery said the three areas of focus under the grant are prevention, expanding treatment options and recovery with the goal of reducing the occurrence of opioid use disorder.
Strategies will include provider education, harm reduction, reducing treatment costs and a peer recovery component to help people stay in recovery.
Interagency partner discussions are important to get all providers to come to the table for discussion, she said.
The four main grant partners are the Morgan County Partnership, the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department, Life or Drugs Tri-State Support and Community Education Group, Gingery said.
The grant won’t pay for agencies to provide direct services, Gingery said. Less than 15% of the grant money will fund Partnership staffing. Part of the budget will go toward funding the three other main partners.
During the first month, 15 additional partnering agencies will be invited to participate in the planning process, Gingery said. The grant will provide stipends for their participation in the 12-month work plan activities. The 15 other partners have not been chosen yet and will be indentified at the first organizational meeting. The remaining grant money will fund a program facilitator and evaluator.
“Individuals hired for these positions will have extensive experience in public health, prevention, harm-reduction, and health promotion-based fields,” Gingery said.
Remaining money will cover travel and site visits to rural communities that have successful opioid response programs, surveys, education and supplies, she added.
Efforts will coordinate a continuum of care and include identifying addiction, recovery, stigma reduction, treatment services, family support and harm reduction.
Gingery said the Partnership wrote the grant for the community. The community is at a crisis with the level of people struggling with opioid use and substance use.
The aim is to reduce the public health crisis surrounding opioid use and substance use disorders, education, improved services and information on ways for people to keep healthy, she said.
Berkeley County/Morgan County Health Department nurse Angela Gray said the department’s role will be to support the planning grant and the community steering committee on how to reduce and prevent substance use and opioid use disorders.
Gray plans to set up a harm reduction program at the Morgan County Health Department this summer like the one she started at the Berkeley County Health Department. It will offer clean syringes and all supplies for injections such as alcohol preps, bandaids, filters, tourniquets and sterile water.
Other program components include vaccinations, HIV, STDs and hepatitis A, B and C testing, safe disposal for syringes and needles, medically-assisted treatment and Narcan availability. Gray noted that Jefferson and Hampshire Counties also have harm reduction programs.
Gray said that the goal is stop communicable diseases such hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
Huntington has had 65 new cases of hepatitis A since December. A cluster of 28 HIV cases identified in Cabell County in March has increased to 44 cases, a majority of which were found in intravenous drug users. Gray estimated that the cost of care for those cases would be around $18 million.
Gray said there are 150,000 self-reported injection substance abusers in West Virginia, which doesn’t include non-injection substance abusers.
According to a CDC vulnerability study, 30 West Virginia counties including Morgan and Berkeley County are at risk for a hepatitis C outbreak. Morgan County needs to get ready, said Gray.
Community partners for upcoming efforts include the health department, Morgan County Schools, health providers, War Memorial Hospital, Morgan County Partnership, Life or Drugs Tri-State Support, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, Morgan County 911, the Morgan County Prosecuting Office and the Day Report Center.
A Community Opioid Crisis and Harm Reduction Forum is scheduled for Saturday, June 15 from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Berkeley Springs High School. Speakers include Gray and Dr. Brandt Williamson. Gray is one of the state’s experts on harm reduction.
Forum topics include perspectives on substance use disorders, understanding medically assisted treatment (MAT) programs, harm reduction need in West Virginia and harm reduction: a personal experience.
Gray hopes that elected officials, EMS, community partners and the public will attend the forum “to see what we’re up against.”