Johnston awarded state overdose response grant by Tri-County

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The Tri-County Regional Prevention Coalition officially recognized and awarded recipients of its state overdose response grants during a ceremony at the Johnston Senior Center on Tuesday morning.

Tri-County estimated in early July that approximately $170,000 in grants would be issued through January 2020, with seven different community organizations each earning a chance to put their funds toward opioid abuse prevention and awareness. The town of Johnston and the Cranston Police Department were among this year’s honorees. Winners came from across the communities covered by Tri-County, which include Johnston, North Providence, Cranston, Scituate, Smithfield, Glocester and Foster.

Tri-County COO Brenda Dowlatshahi handled the Johnston presentation after Mayor Joseph Polisena had to leave for a meeting following his opening remarks. Dowlatshahi said that an opioid task force in Johnston is especially crucial because of the town ranked fifth in the state with 32 overdose deaths per 100,000 people over the past four years.

That figure translates to 46 opioid overdose deaths from 2014 to 2018, putting Johnston behind only Woonsocket, Providence, West Warwick and Central Falls. Dowlatshahi said while the town previously ranked higher, the figures are still troubling. She noted that Johnston had the highest percentage in the state of people over 55 years of age dying of overdoses, and the overall numbers are higher for women than men.

“We work very closely with all the partners including the Johnston Senior Center,” Dowlatshahi said. “So we have some work to do in figuring out why that is, bringing those resources into places like the Senior Center and that is emerging as a problem as we get older.”

Dowlatshahi said the town plans to implement every aspect of the Project LAZARUS model, which is “based on the premise that overdose deaths are preventable and that all communities are responsible for their own health.” The seven “spokes” of the LAZARUS wheel, as Dowlatshahi described it, include general community education, specific community education, prescriber education, pain management and support, harm reduction, diversion control and increased access to prevention, treatment, rescue and recovery.

“General community education is pretty much telling people this is the problem, getting the whole community to really understand what this problem is and how it evolved,” Dowlatshahi said. “And there are some misconceptions about who gets addicted to opioids, why is it happening, the general information about the why. The general community education is [focused on], how do we fix it?”

Dowlatshahi said in terms of pain management and control, Tri-County hired a doctor who is an addiction and osteopathic specialist. According to the American Osteopathic Association, its branch of medicine “emphasizes the interrelated unity of all systems in the body, each working with the other to heal in times of illness.”

“We kind of went with the less traditional route of pain management with acupuncture, Reiki, yoga, meditation, massage, Tai Chi, even paying for gym memberships,” Dowlatshahi said. “We also hired a registered dietician who can do some nutrition and some exercise and just giving them a real team-based care. We have a team-based approach to the whole project.”

Dowlatshahi said the agency wants to train members of the community on how to administer Narcan, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses in emergency situations. She extended the offer to any and all schools should they want to learn a skill that has become increasingly more necessary.

“We do the best we can to get people into recovery, to try to get the team to engage in getting better. If we can’t, it’s more of an, ‘OK, let’s save your life. Whatever we need to do, let’s just save it,’” Dowlatshahi said. “Whoever wants us to come in and train … we would be more than willing to do that also.”

School resource officers Kevin Denneny and Derek DiMeo and Comprehensive Community Action Program substance abuse task force member Katelyn Bianco accepted the Cranston Police grant on behalf of Capt. Vin McAteer, who submitted the application but could not be in attendance. Each entity that received a grant provided a brief presentation regarding its current efforts and how it plans to use the money.

Denneny, who has been a member of the task force for a decade, said a “great partnership” exists between CCAP and Cranston Police, and the organizations work together to educate students and the community at large.

“And just like other cities, Cranston has seen a really high uptick in overdoses through opioid abuse, and we feel that the community as a whole needs more education, so we plan on hitting different aspects of it,” Denneny told the group of assembled recipients.

Bianco explained that CCAP partnered with the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center to hold educational workshops concerning opioid abuse. Bimonthly support groups will also be offered to Cranston residents who have been affected by opioid abuse.

There will be small community discussions as well, but Bianco said those are a “ramp up” to a larger forum with former NBA player and recovered drug user Chris Herren. That event is in the works for January.

“[The center is] allowing us to use their space to have family support groups, so anybody who’s been affected by the opioid crisis can come to these support groups with our licensed clinician – and they’re going to be about bimonthly, so they can come and talk about that,” Bianco said. “We’ll have resources there available to them.”

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