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HEALing Communities Study

Highlighting the impact and outcomes of the HEALing Communities Study in Cayuga County

View the final project presentation to the Cayuga County Legislature on 5/23/23. 

The HEALing Communities Study was implemented in Cayuga County from 2020 through 2022 with a community-driven approach to reduce overdose deaths. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and with assistance by the research partner Columbia University, the study resourced the countywide coordination efforts, data surveillance activities, and implementation of evidence-based practices through community agencies. During a time of a local and national health crisis, Cayuga County managed to remain focused on overdoses and reduced overdose deaths, going against the national trend. 

Overdose fatalities Cayuga County versus national

Cayuga County featured on PBS Newshour segment about rural health challenges (4/2023)

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


  • 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.

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