Addiction to opioids – a class of drugs that includes powerful prescription pain killers and heroin – has reached epidemic status. It doesn’t pick and choose whom it affects. You can find it in our nation’s biggest cities and its smallest towns, including those in Oakland County.
That’s right. The diverse local county of 62 communities and some 1.2 million people has been hit by the opioid crisis, too. And it’s taking a stand.
The Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN), a public safety net that provides specialty mental health services to 25,800 Oakland County residents, has stepped up to the plate with education and prevention services to battle this beast.
“No substance use disorder discriminates. All ages, religions, races and socio-economic statuses can experience addictions,” says Christina Nicholas, the network’s administrator of substance use prevention and treatment services. “We provide the community, as a whole, with information and services to combat the epidemic.”
The group’s substance use prevention offerings are open to the entire county regardless of income level or insurance, and offer an array of services and awareness programs, such as “Pets Miss People Too” and “Do Your Part” which aim to prevent self-destructive behavior like addiction.
OCHN also works with hospitals and other area health organizations to help those struggling with opioid misuse, as well as people in recovery.
“We began adding services as soon as we started seeing the shift in admission rates and people seeking services,” Nicholas says. “We’ve added more programs to combat addiction and really tailor services to what is needed.”
In addition to these services, are the network’s 19 community coalitions, which cover 50 of the county’s communities. The coalitions are made up of locals who develop plans that cater to their specific communities.
“Each community has its own needs as far as preventing substance misuse, and having these coalitions allows the community to wrap their arms around people who have substance use disorders,” Nicholas says.
This means that each coalition’s programs are different. In Pontiac, for example, the focus is on educating kids on the true dangers associated with opioid misuse.
“For urban communities, youth are inundated with media that glorifies substance misuse,” says Minou Jones, program manager of the Greater Urban Community Coalition Initiative. “When kids are hearing these songs about substance misuse not being a big deal, it lowers their perception of harm of prescription drugs.”
To counter this, the Pontiac coalition provided literacy training for leaders in the community and developed an advertising campaign to dispel myths.
Meanwhile, in West Bloomfield, the focus is on keeping drugs out of the hands of kids.
“We are in all of our schools, constantly doing programming, educating kids on a variety of topics and talking about substance misuse prevention,” says Lisa Berkey, executive director of the Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition, which serves West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and Keego Harbor.
“We target youth early, providing tools to develop skills to help them make good decisions and stay away from drugs,” Nicholas adds. “Usually when someone reaches adulthood, they are already into the disease – and we want to stop it before it even begins.”
Coalitions also work with local police departments to aid in proper disposal of medication with Operation Medicine Cabinet and personal disposal kits.
“I am always reminding people to please get rid of your expired and unused medicine,” Berkey adds. “We know for a fact that kids will take it, and when you have an addiction, you are very creative.”
Best of all, the coalitions welcome concerned parents into their ranks to teach them the signs and what they can do within their own homes. Reach out to the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities at achcmi.org, where you can connect with your local coalition.
“It’s a dream come true if we can eliminate it or decrease the issue,” Berkey says. “And yes, you can have an impact.”
For support and to learn more, visit www.occmha.org