Healing Cayuga

Sustaining the HEALing Communities Study's Impact

By Monika Salvage, The Citizen, July 2022

The good news is that Cayuga County was part of the first wave of HEALing Communities Study counties that received federal grant funding to address opioid overdose deaths, starting in 2020. The even better news is that we have tangible evidence of the impact this initiative has had on our community. The best news is that data shows a 22% reduction of overdose deaths in 2021 and overdose witnesses potentially saving 94 lives with Narcan. The not-so-good news is that the implementation period and funding for interventions ended on June 30, 2022. It is a reality of grant-funded initiatives that they have an end date. At that point, it is prudent to evaluate the project impacts and act on the sustainability plan we have been developing.

In the past 2.5 years, the local HEALing Communities staff and their partners have implemented a 13-step action plan that resulted in the following accomplishments, including:

Harm reduction:

  • 2,736 Narcan kits were distributed
    • 1,420 through in-person training events and community outreach
    •    729 through online training and mail service
    •    383 through inmate training at the jail
    •    204 through wall-mounted, publicly accessible red boxes
    •      45 in-person Narcan training events were held in the community and for businesses

Medication treatment:

  • 129 individuals received same-day access to medications for opioid use disorder 

Transportation & Connectivity:

  • 673 rides were given to individuals and 19,377 miles were driven with a grant-funded vehicle to connect people to services and treatment
  • 30 prepaid phones and phone cards were provided for homeless individuals and individuals in treatment to maintain telehealth services 

Housing support:

  • 17 overnight hotel stays were provided for individuals until they could enter inpatient treatment

Medication disposal:

  • 750 pounds of unused medications were collected and destroyed

Training:

  • 5 individuals were sponsored for the Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor course
  • 2 educational seminar series for prescribers and pharmacists were organized

Data capacity:

  • Weekly overdose surveillance was initiated for real-time data availability
  • Monthly overdose, Narcan, and service reports were provided to stakeholders
  • Quarterly fatality reports and substance trends were provided to stakeholders

Public education:

  • 6 communications campaigns were implemented to encourage public discourse around opioid use disorder, stigma, medication treatment, Narcan, and local crisis support

All these coordinated activities resulted in a 22% reduction of overdose deaths in 2021 and 98 witnesses administering the first dose of Narcan during an overdose emergency, thereby potentially saving 94 lives. These outcomes were made possible through extensive collaboration among the HEALing Communities staff and partner agencies, strategic investment in expanded peer support to fill existing gaps, countywide data surveillance, and public information campaigns. $783,000 in grant funding has been spent on these local interventions.

As the second wave of participating counties embarks on their HEALing Communities Study journey, Cayuga County is starting its post-grant transition. The work is certainly not going to stop and agencies have pledged to continue many initiatives. Taking the lessons learned and the framework we have created from the opioid initiative and applying them to address other substances, such as fentanyl and “molly”, is under discussion. Moving forward simply as the ‘Healing Cayuga’ team, we are exploring the aspects of the work we definitely want to sustain and are pursuing future funding opportunities to keep saving lives in Cayuga County in a coordinated and data-driven manner.

About the HEALing Communities Study

Press Release, 2020

Cayuga County is participating in the HEALing Communities Research Study with the goal of reducing opioid deaths by 40% over four years. Cayuga County is one of 67 communities in four states that were selected to take part in this ground-breaking national study.

Columbia University in New York City is leading the research effort among the 16 participating communities in New York State where 3,224 people died in 2017 of overdoses involving opioids. Communities that experience many opioid overdose deaths were chosen, with a focus on rural communities, to test evidence-based practices and reduce the stigma of opioid use disorder and treatment.

Communities were randomly assigned into two groups that will receive intervention services at different times to be able to compare their impact. Cayuga County was assigned to start its intervention phase in 2019 while the second group will start intervention in 2021. Regardless of the random assignment, all participating communities are at the leading edge of this life-saving national initiative and stand to benefit from its outcomes.

We are excited to be part of this large-scale effort to find answers together and compare notes on outcomes,” said Raymond Bizzari, County Mental Health Commissioner, “We are ready to get to work with our community partners and get even more evidence-based opioid treatment to people in Cayuga County.

Cayuga County is fortunate to have many community and grassroots organizations working closely with the County Mental Health Department to educate the community and combat opioid deaths,” said Elane Daly, Chair of the County Health & Human Services Committee, “I am happy to be part of the steering committee for this important initiative that will bring more resources to our communities.

Most of us know someone who has been affected by this terrible epidemic and we all want to learn what works to fight it,” said Monika Salvage, Project Director for HEALing Communities Study, “I can’t wait to start work with our local organizations and study partners around the country to find the most effective ways to reduce opioid deaths.

Part of the National Institute of Health’s HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, the HEALing Communities Study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse along with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. HEAL is a large effort to find scientific solutions to stop opioid overdoses. For more information on the study and its participants, visit the HEALing Communities Study project page.