Housatonic Valley Coalition Against Substance Abuse’s Opioid Workgroup Creates a Strong Foundation

 

“We work at a frenetic pace, and like most coalitions, the Housatonic Valley Coalition Against Substance Abuse (HVCASA) wears many hats,” says HVCASA’s Executive Director Allison Fulton. “In addition to being a regional action council, serving 22 communities (a diverse population of 250,000) and ensuring distribution and management of funds to 12 local prevention councils, we are a Drug-Free Communities support program grantee.”

HVCASA’s geographic coverage includes the city of Danbury, Connecticut (80,000 people) and small, rural communities.

“Like much of the country, we’re dealing with an opioid crisis that has created a call-to-action,” asserts Fulton. Opioid issues first arose in 2004 when the coalition learned that returning college students were initiating pill parties. The problem soon spread to the high schools. In response, the HVCASA created the Opioid Workgroup to reduce the region’s opioid addiction disorders, overdoses and related deaths. Between 2013-2015, the region saw 112 overdose deaths. In 2014, the Opioid Workgroup was convened with 45 participating partners.

“We’d been conducting presentations on prescription drug abuse to small audiences prior to that time, but it wasn’t until we launched the workgroup that our efforts really took off,” says Fulton. “We did exactly what coalitions are supposed to do – we identified information gaps and shared data and collectively developed comprehensive strategies which address our communities’ unique concerns.”

Reiterates Fulton, “We now have a core group of 15 to 18 key players who regularly participate in our planning process, and it’s taken us 15 months to wrap our arms around this issue.”

Activities cast a broad net, focusing on prevention, treatment and recovery. HVCASA has:

  • Increased the number of drop boxes across the region, promoted DEA Take-Back days and distributed lock boxes
  • Engaged the media with PSAs, interviews and letters to the editor
  • Printed and distributed 100 tabletop posters targeting doctors, dentists and pharmacies
  • Provided testimony
  • Printed and distributed 1,000 overdose prevention cards
  • Supplied local data to licensed professional counselors and prevention partners
  • Promoted access to treatment
  • Updated its resource directory and shared resources among constituents and partners
  • Hosted a train-the-trainer session on the use of Narcan, resulting in the creation of 12 new trainers for the region
  • Encouraged local law enforcement to carry Narcan with them when they were on patrol 
  • Conducted “pediatric grand rounds” informing doctors about the requirement to register with the prescription drug monitoring program
  • Helped ensure that Narcan is in pharmacies

“Our numbers are still not where they should be,” says Fulton. “The first light at the end of the tunnel however, are these process outcomes – we are raising the level of education and awareness about opioid addiction, and that’s the first step towards making a positive impact at the grassroots level.”

Fulton concluded, “Opioid misuse and addiction is emotional and challenging. First, start with small successes. And acknowledge that while your partners play a critical role in achieving your goals, along the way they may tend to silo off. Help them understand that we save lives if we work together.”