Opioid overdose deaths across North Carolina dropped for the first time in five years, yet the numbers from Buncombe County, tell a different story. In the face of an unrelenting overdose crisis, Buncombe County has received two sizeable grants that will support overdose response capacity and provide funding to address unique health and treatment needs of people struggling with Opioid Use Disorder.
Data from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) shows that Buncombe County saw a 147% increase in overdose deaths from 2015-2017. More recent data suggests this trend continues to grow; at the end of April last year there were 85 visits YTD to the Emergency Department due to opioid overdose; this year that number rose to 107.
Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-based Program (COAP):
The US Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights and Office of Justice Programs awarded a Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-based Program (COAP) grant to Buncombe County in the amount of $878,803. Buncombe County’s Safer Together initiative housed in Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) will use funds from the COAP grant to provide wrap around psychological, medical and social supports to persons who have recently overdosed or are at high risk of overdose from opioids. Safer Together will employ a Post Overdose Response Team (PORT) model, in combination with transitional housing slots and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), to reduce overdose deaths and overdose visits to the Emergency Department, reduce the number of chronically homeless in our area, provide peer support to those exiting the jail, reduce infectious disease, and increase the knowledge of harm reduction principles among our community partners who are also entrenched in the opioid crisis.
Beginning immediately, the COAP grant will fund a full time position for the duration of the grant to serve as Program Coordinator. Starting July 2020, the grant will fund the PORT team which includes a certified medical professional, licensed mental health professional and peer support specialist. After receiving a referral from a community partner, the PORT team will respond to overdoses within 72 hours to ensure that high-risk individuals are connected with housing, MAT or other treatment modality, and important healthcare services.
Community Linkages to Care:
BCHHS also received the Community Linkages to Care grant from NCDHHS in the amount of $275,000 to be used over a three year period to address specific challenges faced by high risk individuals exiting jail. Research from UNC Chapel Hill shows that people with Opioid Use Disorder who are exiting incarceration are 40 times more likely to die of overdose within two weeks of release. Post-release challenges such as getting a license post-release, transportation to treatment or appointments, return to use, family issues, and housing can be the difference between life and death.
This grant will augment existing harm reduction efforts and the provision of MAT in the Buncombe County Detention Facility. Funding will support a peer support specialist who focuses on high risk individuals being released from jail and will provide flexible funding linked to the social determinants of health related to Opioid Use Disorder. This no wrong door approach will create a more robust network of helping professionals and resources for people at high risk of overdose. We are grateful to Dogwood Health Trust’s Leverage Fund for providing technical assistance during the grant application.
“The opioid epidemic is a pressing public health and safety concern in our area. Through the COAP grant and the Community Linkages to Care grant, we are able to mobilize a focused effort on ensuring that evidence-based interventions are used to prevent, respond to, and treat overdose while reducing barriers for those who are seeking services,” says BCHHS Public Health Director, Jan Shepard. “We know that this additional funding will save lives. We are grateful to our leadership and community partners for their leadership, compassion and collaboration as we work to protect the public’s health.”
Starting in January, BCHHS will be working with area medical and behavioral health providers to secure contracts related to medication assisted treatment, housing, and mental health supports. To learn more about the funding and related services provided as a part of these grants, please join us on January 13, 2020 for a webinar from 3-4 pm.
Topic: Safer Together Webinar
Time: Jan 13, 2020 03:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 239 238 487
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Meeting ID: 239 238 487
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Mental Health Services
For more information, please contact Opioid Response Coordinator, Amy Upham, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.buncombecounty.org/safer for more information and updates on how Buncombe County is addressing the opioid crisis in WNC.
 North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, 2019. NC Opioid Action Plan Dashboard, Buncombe. Retrieved 2/22/2019 from: https://injuryfreenc.shinyapps.io/OpioidActionPlan/
 North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, 2019. NC Opioid Action Plan Dashboard, Buncombe. Retrieved 9/5/2019 from: https://injuryfreenc.shinyapps.io/OpioidActionPlan/
 Shabbar I. Ranapurwala et al. “Opioid Overdose Mortality Among Former North Carolina Inmates: 2000–2015”, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 9 (September 1, 2018): pp. 1207-1213.https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304514