Opioid outreach program focuses on rural counties

In its continuing effort to curb the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, the WVU Institute for Community and Rural Health will institute a three-year outreach program geared toward helping some of the state’s more rural counties overcome the ongoing health crisis.

The Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) is part of an initiative led by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration that focuses on rural areas that may have limited access to health care due to remote locations.

“Our goal is to support the individuals in those communities,” said Brianna Sheppard, WVU’s assistant director for the Institute for Community and Rural Health and the program’s principle investigator.

In a June analysis of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s database that tracked shipments of pain pills from 2006 to 2013, the Washington Post reported more than 853 million pain pills were shipped to West Virginia.

The Post reported the states that received the highest concentrations of pills per person per year during that time period were: West Virginia with 66.5, Kentucky with 63.3, South Carolina with 58, Tennessee with 57.7 and Nevada with 54.7. West Virginia also had the highest opioid death rate from 2006 through 2012.

RCORP, supported by a $1 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services award, will focus on opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services in Tyler, Calhoun, Gilmer, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane and Jackson counties, all rural counties. The program may eventually be expanded to other counties, Sheppard said.

WVU researchers plan to combat the epidemic through techniques such as alternative chronic pain management, eliminating or reducing treatment costs for the uninsured as well as under-insured patients, stigma reduction training and workforce development. Other recovery services that will be provided include transportation, housing, peer recovery, case management, employment assistance and child care.

“Integrating these approaches into the ongoing efforts (of) our rural communities will allow them to refine the approaches that work best for them,” Sheppard said.

WVU’s partners in RCORP include Westbrook Health Services, the Mid-Ohio Valley Rural Health Alliance, Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, Minnie Hamilton Health System and Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center.

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