David Trewolla has an important message for those tempted by opioids: “You have no idea the damage it will cause in your life. Your family, your job, your finances – it will destroy them all.”
Trewolla, state opioid coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, was one of four speakers at a recent opioid forum sponsored by the Delta Health Alliance (DHA) through its new program focused on providing services and programs for people who live in rural communities and who are struggling with alcohol and substance abuse addiction. Called STAR, or Systems of Treatment and Rehabilitation, the program is funded by a $600,000 grant awarded last year by the U.S. Health Services & Resource Administration, Office of Rural Health Policy.
Faith-based organizations, law enforcement, healthcare workers, community members and others were invited to the forum held at the Capps Center in Stoneville to hear Trewolla discuss the opioid crisis affecting the Delta. He was joined by colleague Mae Slay; Greg Servick, an EMT and paramedic; and Anthony Wood with the DeSoto County Counseling Center.
Among the observations they made were:
- The number of prescriptions written for opioids has more than doubled just in the past five years.
- Opioids affects people from all walks of life and all demographics.
- Opioids have lowered the life expectancy among older white men and has increased in usage among African-Americans.
- A holistic approach is needed to treat addiction and to fill the gaps in users’ lives that contribute to addiction.
The STAR program will provide community-based services to help treat and manage opioid abuse, alcohol addiction and other substance abuse. While most of the participants are expected to come as referrals from the Sunflower County and Washington County court systems, a person may enter treatment from a clinical partner, recovery support service, or self-referral.
Social workers for the program are currently being recruited, said Sha’Ketta Davis, director of Mental and Behavioral Health Grants for DHA.
“This forum shows are commitment to the fight against opioids,” said Davis. “Treatment for addiction, detox therapy, counseling and recovery as well as support services are all components of the program.”
Forum speakers emphasized that the epidemic of drug overdoses is often perceived as a largely white rural problem. The fact is that opioid addiction has made striking inroads among black Americans, they said.
According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, the breakdown of mortality along geographic and racial lines reveal that the drug death rate is rising most steeply among blacks, with those between the ages of 45 and 64 among the hardest hit.
Anthony Woods’ comment about the number of prescriptions for painkillers doubling since 2014 is supported by Stand Up Mississippi, a statewide initiative to end the opioid crisis. Mississippi, according to the initiative, has ranked fifth in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions written annually per capita. According to the initiative, in seven of Mississippi’s 18 Delta counties, there were more opioid prescriptions written than people.
Now, compound those figures with the fact that alcohol use among Mississippi school kids stands at near 60 percent, and the need to take swift action becomes more urgent.
“We have a serious problem in our state and we must get a handle on it before it becomes too late for those people struggling with addiction,” said Davis. “STAR, combined with forums like this one, will help us move forward in our fight.”
For more information about the STAR program, call 662-686-7004. To find out more about Delta Health Alliance’s projects, please go to www.deltahealthalliance.orgor follow DHA on Facebook.