TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — During the Opioid Epidemic Response event hosted by the OSU Center of Health Sciences Center for Wellness & Recovery in July, Sarah Johnson gave a report on findings from a project she directs through the Cherokee County Health Services Council.
BluePrint for Change is a one-year Rural Communities Opioid Response Planning grant awarded from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Its focus is opioid use prevention, treatment, and recovery.
According to the CCHSC website, BluePrint for Change has three goals: to formalize a consortium of partners working on opioid use in Cherokee County; to prepare a comprehensive plan to address opioid, prevention, treatment, and recovery in Cherokee County; and to provide capacity building activities, such as trainings and education opportunities, to strengthen efforts of the consortium of partners.
"It is important for the community to know that there are groups converged to work on these things," said Johnson. "We are trying to organize ourselves around resources that exist and identify any gaps."
Johnson and others are working to put together a resource directory for the county.
To find out what community members know about opioid use, CCHSC held five town halls in Welling, Eldon, Briggs, Hulbert and Tahlequah, and set up an online survey, www.surveymonkey.com/r/CherokeeCountyBlueprintforChange. At least 500 surveys have been collected, and Johnson has interviewed 30 community stakeholders.
"There are a lot of people out there trying to make a difference: law enforcement, mental health, teachers, and nonprofits," said Johnson.
In the community-needs assessment of over 500 residents, the majority - 59.3 percent - reported opioid use disorder (OUD) is a countywide problem.
According to the survey responses, reasons for opioid use disorder are attributed to: underlying conditions of poverty, a culture of acceptance, and low academic attainment, 49 percent; contributing conditions of poor mental health, low health literacy, and law enforcement, 14.6 percent; and causal conditions of over-prescription and easy accessibility, 30.2 percent.
Other findings include: 72 percent of respondents do not know how opioid addiction occurs; 31 percent reported loved ones with OUD, and barriers to treatment include stigma, fear, and embarrassment; 27.4 percent have used another's pain medication prescription; 55.6 percent do not think keeping opioids in the home is risky; 22.5 percent currently hold a supply of opioids in their homes; and 57 percent have heard of Narcan, and 28 percent can administer it.
Trainings for law enforcement and educators have also been provided through BluePrint for Change.
"For law enforcement, we offered CLEET [Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training] certification. A person from the Department of Justice office out of Muskogee came and talked to the police officers. He talked about how addiction happens, how we need to discuss opioid addiction as not a choice or moral issue, but as an addiction," said Johnson. "At the schools, it was similar: how to identify addiction, how people get addicted. A lot of times, it's because of a school sports injury or getting wisdom teeth pulled that they are prescribed them."
The overall program will run until September, and Johnson said CCHSC is actively seeking and applying for more grants.
"We hope this is the start of a conversation. We started with basic information and hope to get more in depth over time," she said.
For more information about BluePrint for Change and the Cherokee County Health Services Council, visit www.cchscok.org.