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Posted on: February 28, 2019

In a region of the country where impediments to succeed exist at nearly every turn, alcohol and drug abuse can make life in the Mississippi Delta seem like a hammer ready to strike.

The epidemic of drug overdoses, often perceived as a largely white rural problem, made striking inroads among black Americans in 2016, 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.

According to Stand Up Mississippi, a statewide initiative to end the opioid crisis, Mississippi has been 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 know these addictions affect jobs and relationships with families,” said Sha’Ketta Davis, director of Mental and Behavioral Health Grants for the Delta Health Alliance (DHA). “And then you factor in crime and domestic violence. It’s time to take action.”

That action has come in the form of $600,000 in funding over the next three years to provide new services and programs for people who live in rural communities and who are struggling with alcohol and substance abuse addiction. It’s called STAR, or Systems of Treatment and Rehabilitation. The grant was awarded in June by the U.S. Health Services & Resource Administration, Office of Rural Health Policy.

The new program will provide community-based services to help treat and manage alcohol addiction and 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. 

The long-term outcomes for the program include:

  • A reduction in drug- and alcohol-related arrests.
  • A reduction in opioid overdoses. (In 2016, 15 and 14 people were killed by drug overdoses in Sunflower and Washington counties, respectively.)
  • An increase in numbers of days of employability by drug and alcohol addicts.
  • A reduction in domestic violence calls by law enforcement.
  • An increase in self-reported sobriety.
  • An overall improvement in liver function tests by participants to determine the effectiveness of the program.

“These problems have specific impacts on our communities,” said Davis. “For example, many of those dealing with drug and alcohol problems don’t have health insurance, so our healthcare facilities are absorbing the costs of these addictions.”

The program grant will serve as many as 500 people in Sunflower and Washington counties and fund a program director, a coach and a data analyst, said Davis.

Trained program staff will devise customized plans for each participant, which may include education on addiction treatment, access to support services, transportation, tracking progress and follow-up with individual treatment plans. In addition, support for families includes family therapy sessions in-person or via video conferencing. 

“We want to set goals that achieve measurable results in transitioning participants to a non drug and alcohol lifestyle,” Davis said. “Even if someone hasn’t found themselves in trouble with the law or with their job, we want them to know that support services are available. Don’t wait until drugs and alcohol lands you in jail. Help is right here.”

For more information about the grant, call 662-686-7004.  To find out more about Delta Health Alliance’s projects, please go to www.deltahealthalliance.orgor follow DHA on Facebook.