The fight against opioid abuse in Grays Harbor County just got a big boost in the form of a $750,000 grant.
The federal Rural Response to the Opioid Epidemic grant, which will be paid out over two years, will help the county increase access to programs that help prevent abuse of the powerful narcotics.
“I’m very pleased that Grays Harbor was among the recipients of this highly competitive award,” Karolyn Holden, director of Grays Harbor Public Health said in a release. “We see this as a valuable addition to the variety of prevention efforts we implement and will align this work with other important community-wide efforts to expand evidence-based interventions for substance use disorder.”
Community Health Specialist Wilma Weber from Grays Harbor Public Health said the county has organized an Executive Leadership Committee of the Rural Response to help guide the spending of these funds. The group is diverse and includes representatives from law enforcement, Public Health, a Superior Court judge, and at least one person who has experienced homelessness and drug addiction.
Spending for counter-opioid efforts from this grant has guidelines. Weber said there are three categories that these funds can go toward: Strengthening epidemiological surveillance and public health data infrastructure.
Implementing community level overdose prevention activities.
Establishing behavioral health and public safety collaborations.
“When we get data on overdoses and deaths, it’s usually about a year and a half later, after they’ve been reported to (state Department of Health). The data’s been cleaned and verified. That does nothing to respond to if there’s a spike in overdoses or a spike in deaths,” Weber said. The money could be used to warn local officials more quickly about increases in overdoses or deaths while protecting citizens’ privacy.
Community-level prevention could include school instruction or helping Child Protective Services deal with families separated as a result of opioid use.
“We know this is a public health crisis, but not just one activity or one intervention is going to quell the problem,” Weber said. “There’s an array of different things across the spectrum that we can all be doing to address this issue.”
To that end, the board leading this effort also is diverse from people providing care or safety to a person who has firsthand experience in opioid abuse. That diversity helped Grays Harbor secure this grant.
“One of the big things about establishing these programs and trying to make these connections is that we think we know what is going to help people most. But until you’re living there or experienced that, it’s really hard to get that buy-in and input” from the opioid-use community, Weber said. “No other communities (that applied for the grant) had thought to put somebody from that world or with those experiences on their executive team.”
Superior Court Judge Stephen Brown said he is looking forward to working with the other members of the executive committee and is invested in improving outcomes in the county.
“One issue that I’m interested in is how this response can impact our therapeutic court program, the adult drug court,” he said. He hopes the money will help “extend the therapeutic courts to child welfare cases where kids are taken into foster care from parents who are impacted by the substance use disorder and opioids.”
Only 21 groups were awarded these grants to “reduce the disease and death associated with opioid overdoses in rural communities by bringing together experts from public safety, therapeutic justice, behavioral health, and public health,” according to the release. Grays Harbor is the only community on the West Coast to receive the grant, Weber said.
Funding for the federal grant comes from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the State Justice Institute.
“This is an exciting opportunity for us to collaborate around the shared goal of improving health and safety,” Holden said. “Many local leaders are committing to this work and I’m excited to see what can be accomplished together.”
The committee that will be working with Grays Harbor County Public Health and Social Services to administer this grant is made up of the following people: Aberdeen resident Jeff Simmons, Judge Brown, Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard, Grays Harbor County Coroner Bob Kegel, Grays Harbor Undersheriff Brad Johansson and Grays Harbor Public Health Deputy Director Beth Mizushima.
Weber said she knows that the public will be very interested in knowing how this money is spent.
“The first thing I usually get asked is, is this going to support the syringe service program,” she said. “The syringe service program is one of the strategies in a comprehensive approach to this problem. But it’s not specifically what this grant is about. Public Health does so many things across the spectrum of prevention to intervention, treatment, and recovery. That’s just one of the pieces.”
If people want to learn more about this grant or have input on the strategies that are selected, Public Health will have quarterly stakeholder meetings that will be open to the public. No information on the next meeting was available before this story was published.