Over the next year, a local hospital, two nonprofits and the University of Cincinnati will team up to plan an opioid response program for Highland County, all thanks to a $200,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Jennifer Lanzillotta of the UC College of Nursing, who will serve as a project director, told The Times-Gazette that the grant, awarded to the college of nursing, will cover the costs of assessing the Highland County community for its needs related to substance abuse resources.
Once the planning is complete, implementation of the plan will take place over the following two years.
“The purpose of the funding is to support treatment for, and prevention of, substance use disorder, including opioid use disorder, in Highland County,” Lanzillotta said in a news release.
Lanzillotta said the grant requires a consortium of different entities to conduct research and build the infrastructure needed for the program. The consortium includes representatives from the University of Cincinnati; Highland District Hospital; PreventionFIRST!, a Cincinnati nonprofit; and REACH for Tomorrow, a Greenfield-based nonprofit that has been active in combating the opioid crisis here.
“Through this planning process, we will build an infrastructure designed to transform opioid use disorder health care in this at-risk community,” Lanzillotta said in the news release.
According to the release, the grant’s specific planning objectives for the project include the following:
• Bringing entities together in partnership to ensure care coordination, prevention of service duplication, and optimization of resources;
• Leveraging federal, state and local resources;
• Increasing access to care for those suffering from opioid use disorder;
• Decreasing opioid use fatalities;
• Building strategies to prevent the spread of infectious disease in people who inject drugs;
• Educating the community to decrease bias, prevent opioid use disorder, and support related services;
• Increasing medication-assisted treatment providers through certifications and telehealth services.
As part of the planning process, officials are gathering information through an online survey that asks a number of questions about substance use. The survey is available at www.is.gd/HighlandCounty.
Lanzillotta said Highland County is a “medically underserved county,” and researchers already know the area is at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks due to shared needle use.
According to Lanzillotta, Highland County is ranked in the top 5 percent of counties nationally identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as being at risk for an extreme HIV outbreak similar to one that occurred in Scott County, Ind., in recent years.
“We’re also extremely worried about hepatitis C,” Lanzillotta told The Times-Gazette.
Lanzillotta added that Highland County is ranked 81st of 88 Ohio counties in health outcomes.
Lanzillotta described opioid use disorder as “a complex and multi-faceted problem requiring teamwork, innovation and strategic planning for effective prevention, treatment and recovery.”
“Similar to other rural at-risk communities, there is a lack of care coordination, harm reduction strategies, medication-assisted treatment and opioid use disorder support services,” she said, “so the consortium’s goal is to partner together to ultimately maximize financial resources while improving health coutcomes and decreasing fatalities.”
Heather Gibson, CEO of REACH for Tomorrow, said in the news release that her organization is “thankful for the partnerships and collaboration afforded through this funding opportunity.”
Gibson was not available for further comment on Tuesday.
According to the news release, the project is “a partnership… whose overall goal is to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with opioid overdoses in Highland County by strengthening the organizational and infrastructural capacity of this multisector consortium.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.