CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Board of Health unanimously approved a multi-year initiative that creates a coordinated effort to address the area’s opioid crisis.
The plan presented Wednesday to the Linn County Board of Health to address opioid use disorder among residents focuses on actions from prevention and treatment to educating the broader public.
The plan is a culmination of a nearly two-year-long effort by the Opioid Steering Committee, a group created by Linn County Public Health and made up of organizations and agencies that include law enforcement and judicial agencies, area hospitals, first responders, advocacy organizations and elected officials, among others.
The goal of the committee was to bring together agencies working on various facets of the issue to discuss and identify gaps in services for target populations, explained Erin Foster, director of prevention services at the Area Substance Abuse Council and chairwoman of the Opioid Steering Committee.
“We’re resource-rich in Linn County, but we don’t collaborate like we’re resource-rich,” Foster said.
By identifying gaps, the Opioid Steering Committee also can pinpoint solutions and create collaborations among agencies, if necessary. In some cases, by gathering officials at the table, Foster said committee members were able to find a solution to problems by talking to the person sitting next to them.
For example, the committee members identified the need to increase accessibility of the opioid-overdose reversal drug naloxone in the community, particularly for populations within the Department of Correctional Services.
Other recommendations within the action plan include:
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• Support community education on opioid use, including prevention and safe practices such as count, lock and dispose.
• Development of a post-overdose response initiative in area hospitals after a patient presents to the emergency department following an opioid overdose.
• Provide training on naloxone administration to local first responders, particularly those based in rural parts of the county.
• Educate elected officials to support policies and legislation that support practices to reduce opioid overdose deaths.
In 2017, there were 20 opioid-related deaths and nearly 100 emergency department episodes linked to an opioid overdose in Linn County, according to the action plan. That same year, Iowa saw 206 overdose deaths involving opioids in total, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In 2012, Iowa saw just 14 opioid overdose deaths statewide.
Before 2017, many Linn County agencies had begun looking internally to determine what could be done with their own resources. However, what the county lacked was “an interconnected, multi-agency effort that would result in the greatest impact,” the action plan states.
To create this multi-agency effort, Linn County Public Health formed the Opioid Steering Committee in fall 2017.
Not only was the county successful in identifying gaps in addressing the opioid crisis, Foster said the committee was able to find comprehensive data on the issue.
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Before the committee was formed, several agencies were tracking data from different viewpoints, Foster said. For example, area hospitals were measuring emergency department visits for overdoses while local treatment centers were counting the number of individuals seeking treatment for opioid use disorder.
By getting the data to “talk” to each other, Foster said officials were able to build a comprehensive picture of what the opioid crisis looks like in the county.
With this data, and with a blessing from the Board of Health to continue their effort, the Opioid Steering Committee plans to continue meeting biannually.
The action plan can be viewed on the Linn County Public Health website.
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