Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 40 states have reported an increase in opioid-related mortalities due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders. A paper published in the December 2020 issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment details how four Appalachian communities not only maintained their opioid mitigation programs during the pandemic, but also expanded and increased their sustainability.
The article, by Dr. Holly Raffle, professor at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of leadership and Public Affairs, and Matthew Courser of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), discusses the work of Communities of Practice for Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (COP-RCORP). Formed in 2018 with funding from the Health Resources and Service Administration, these communities of practice – people with common interests, concerns or passions who collaborate to expand and deepen their understanding of the topic – are dedicated to addressing the opioid epidemic.
In the paper, Raffle and Courser focus on the communities’ take-home naloxone (THN) programs, which provide face-to-face training and distribution of naloxone to those who may be at risk of an opioid overdose. Naloxone is effective in reversing overdoses if administered quickly, but emergency response can be slowed by bystanders; reluctance to call 911 and transportation to a hospital.
Take-home naloxone programs usually involve face-to-face training, but with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, local communities struggled to conduct training and distribute naloxone to those at risk.
In response, the COP-RCORP leaders and members adjusted their existing take-home naloxone programs by hosting drive-through take-home events; using qualified volunteers like EMTs, firefighters, nurses and pharmacists to train program participants; developing an online training platform; and providing on-on-one training via telephone or video. These changes were not only successful, but also have had an impact on the future of take-home naloxone programs.
“All four community pivots are both highly sustainable and transferrable to other community-based coalitions/task forces planning to or currently implanting THN training and distribution programs,” Raffle and Courser wrote. “Each of the coalitions/task forces found that their COVID-19 pivots completed their existing THN efforts by increasing number of options for training and distribution.”