PACIFIC COUNTY — Local organizations are working to help individuals impacted by opioid use disorder.
Willapa Behavioral Health (WBH) and the Pacific County Health Department are working on a handful of programs to help prevent opioid use addiction in the county. Work ranges from employment assistance to community outreach.
In Pacific County
Opioid overdoses result in 700 of Washington state deaths annually, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Pacific County averages two opioid-related deaths per year. The county also averages about four drug overdoses per year, according to the department.
Most opioid prescriptions go to county residents who are 45 years and older, especially those who have reached retirement age.
The Opioid Use Reduction and Recover (OURR) Alliance is a fairly new employment support program. Pacific, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason and Thurston counties are served by the program.
The program started about three months ago and is funded through a one-year grant.
The alliance helps individuals impacted by opioid use. People eligible for the program include those who used opioids, as well as family members, friends and community members affected by opioid use.
“I believe all of the main population centers of Pacific County qualify for most of the work that I’m doing,” said Billy Cooley, Willapa Behavioral Health case manager.
Cooley works with participants to achieve job readiness goals.
“What the grant is designed to do is provide workforce and career services, and employment barrier removal for folks impacted by the opioid crisis, either directly or indirectly,” Cooley said.
Since its start, seven individuals have enrolled in the program. One participant has left the program employed.
Cooley also works as a peer counselor with program participants.
“I was a receiver of many of these services years ago,” Cooley said.
Cooley’s goal is to get people back into the workforce. He helps connect participants with local resources and works with them throughout their job search process.
Some of the tasks Cooley’s helped participants with are unique.He’s even helped a program participant with auto repair so they could have transportation to and from work.
“In my experience in the field, removing barriers like that usually requires many steps,” Cooley said.
Willapa Behavioral Health’s Medically Assisted Treatment and Prescription Drug Overdose and Addiction program is a three-year grant. The grant has three focuses:; opioid prescribing practices, expanded use and distribution of naloxone, and expansion of medication-assisted treatment.
The three focuses together aim to reduce opioid use disorders and overdoses. Since the grant’s start earlier this year, the grant has worked with more than 50 people.
Individuals who receive help from the program get medication-assisted treatment and peer support services.
Medication-assisted treatment helps people who are at the end of their addiction cycle, said Dr. MaryAnne Murray, a WBH prescriber.
“We’re talking about using drugs simply for the purposes of not being violently ill, not for the purpose of getting high or escapism.”
Medically-assisted treatment provides individuals with medications that can be injected or taken orally.
Peer support services funded by the grant include sober events and activities where individuals can connect with local resources and others who’ve experienced opioid addiction.
“It’s so powerful for people who can hear others say ‘I’ve been there. I’ve been through it. I’m clean and sober. It’s possible you can do this too and we’ll help you,’” Murray said.
The county health department has four major focuses for addressing opioid use disorder, said Deputy Director Katie Lindstrom. This focus includes prevention, intervention, treatment and after-care.
“Our goal is to provide a continuum of care,” Lindstrom said. “We’re looking at opioid use from a holistic perspective.”
One of the department’s major projects its Opioid Response Team, which is made up of law enforcement officers, healthcare providers and local agencies.
The team works to expand access to treatment, reduce harm and streamline services for those affected by opioid use disorder.
The team’s work ranges from educating prescribers on safe standards, to working in schools to start opioid use prevention early. Like WBH, the county health department encourages medically-assisted treatment.
“For example, you don’t need 30 oxycodone for a dental surgery,” Lindstrom said.
The health department has also worked to add more prescribers to Pacific County. The county has five providers. A few years ago, the county only had one active provider, Lindstrom said.
“We want prescribers at all levels and stages of treatment,” Lindstrom said.
The health department also provides training on how to use naloxone, which treats overdoses.
At the jail
Another initiative the county works on includes providing medically-assisted treatment to jail inmates and individuals who end up in the emergency room for overdoses. Inmates work one-on-one with jail liaison Judd Comer.
“His position was created to stop the in-and-out jail cycle and get people connected with resources,” Lindstrom said. “People might still cycle but it’s a longer cycle.”
Another program that works with inmates is the county’s drug court. Individuals spend about a year and a half in the program with regular check-ups with Prosecutor Mark McClain and other court staff. The program aims to help those impacted by opioid addiction move back into society.
Moving forward, the county plans on increasing sober-living options, Lindstrom said.
“It’s all sober so we can give someone something positive other than drugs to go back to,” Lindstrom said.
Expanding safe housing options will provide safe housing for individuals who want to remove themselves from environments that might tempt them to relapse.