Access Health has spent the last year convening a group of key local partners to learn and share strategies on reducing opioid overdoses. Coordinated by the Northern New England-Practice Transformation Network, the project is known as the Community Opioid Overdose Response Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes – or COOR ECHO.
The project consists of monthly meetings where expert faculty and local communities present learning topics and opioid overdose-related cases for discussion and brainstorming. The four objectives for the program are collecting timely, local data on drug/opioid overdose deaths, improving Opioid Use Disorder treatment capacity using rapid-access, low-barrier approaches, improving naloxone distribution, and creating linkages with the Substance Use Disorder community.
Those working on the project locally include the Bath Police Department, Sagadahoc County Sherriff’s Office, Blue Water Emergency Partners, Sweetser, and Mid Coast Hospital, which involves physicians and specialists from the Center for Community Health and Wellness, Addiction Resource Center, Emergency Department, and Mid Coast Medical Group.
Jen Kellerman, Prevention Specialist at Access Health and community convener for the project, said “This project has been so valuable. We have been able to recognize areas of improvement needed in our community – such as reducing stigma around Substance Use Disorder, increasing naloxone distribution points, and strengthening relationships with our recovery communities. It is incredibly beneficial to receive feedback from experts and other communities, and discuss how we’re going to work together locally to improve services.”
The COOR ECHO project also provided learning opportunities for the law enforcement community. Joel Merry, Sagadahoc County Sheriff shares, “One thing we learned is that there are no areas in our state that are not affected by the opioid epidemic. However, the local responses are different in many ways. Hearing what other communities are doing is valuable.”
He continued, “COOR ECHO allowed us to network with communities across the state and deepen our own knowledge on what how we can do better assisting folks with opioid use disorder. From a law enforcement encounter to emergency room treatment, the ideas shared were substantial. We must continue to community conversation to reduce stigma, educate the public and support those in need.”
Mike Field, Police Chief in Bath, added “I learned a lot in a short period of time. Mainly, that we are not alone and there are many other communities throughout Maine doing great things to respond to the opioid crisis. To be able to share and network with them has given me an opportunity to think outside the box and explore what we may be missing. I do believe we are fortunate to have the partnerships already in place in our region, so I see us continuing to work towards solutions together.”
Dr. Ranjiv Advani, Medical Director of Mid Coast Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) and Faculty for the COOR ECHO project shared how this experience has supported the work already being done in the ED. He commented, “The COOR ECHO project has helped connect the ED to other groups and agencies around the state that are doing great work to combat the opioid epidemic. Too often, the efforts that we are all making are siloed. This project has helped us understand different approaches that the medical, recovery, law enforcement, and public health communities are using, with the goal of further coordinating these efforts.”
This has been a unique learning opportunity for Access Health and the community as a whole. Potential next steps for Access Health include coordinating community stigma reduction trainings and education campaigns and working with the recovery community to provide better support for those seeking treatment.