The parking lot at Bridgeview Resource Center in Vancouver was full on the late November day. There were only a few available chairs at the meeting. It took more than 20 minutes for the more than 30 people to introduce themselves.
Since beginning in April, Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health’s Clark County Opioid Task Force’s monthly meetings have consistently been packed. Jim Jensen, the task force facilitator and a manager of collaboration and learning with SWACH, said the first year of the group was focused on creating a “scaffolding” for the task force so it can be sustainable.
The task force brings together voices from the substance use recovery community, recovery coaches, representatives from local hospitals and clinics, aides of legislators and people with other areas of expertise. The point is to break down the silos that exist in health care and recovery treatment, and get people from various sectors together.
“A lot of what makes me happy about this task force is the relationship building that can occur when you get these folks together, and the shared experience and education that can happen in these conversations,” said Jensen, who teaches in Clark College’s Addiction Counselor Education Department.
In its inaugural year, the task force has distributed more than 100 naloxone kits used to reverse overdoses, and trained more than 100 people how to administer the drug.
One thing that makes the task force different from other groups is that it has representation from those who have lived experiences with substance use. Jensen said he knows overdose prevention will continue to be a big part of the group’s agenda when members regroup in late January.
There were more than 47,000 opioid overdose deaths nationally in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 742 opioid overdose deaths in Washington that same year, and 39 in Clark County. Preliminary numbers indicate opioid overdose deaths are decreasing locally, statewide and nationally.
“Some of the folks in the room are in there because they’ve lost loved ones to addiction,” Jensen said. “If there’s one thing we can do, we can make a small impact on the amount of folks who are dying from the disease of addiction.”
The task force is looking to incorporate new voices in the coming year. Jensen said law enforcement participation dropped off after being involved initially. He said he’d also like to see more representatives from local government, young people, veterans and corrections, or criminal justice. Jensen, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, said it’s his responsibility to get people from those areas involved, and make them feel like their voice matters, and the work of the task force is helpful.
“When you run into veterans, youth, local government, law enforcement and corrections, if you see areas where their voice isn’t represented, the onus is on me,” Jensen said. “The onus is on the task force in general, but the onus is on me to try and make the task force something that is useful for those folks and also reach out and engage.”
Jensen did admit the group is likely to expand its focus from opioid use disorder to substance use disorder so it can incorporate more voices into the task force and make a bigger impact.
“We haven’t finalized anything or put anything to a vote, but it’s been a pretty solid consensus with the task force as a whole, and with the steering committee, that we’re already working beyond the scope of opioids in what we’re trying to accomplish,” Jensen said. “Calling it just an opioid task force, in part, is a misnomer. We’re already doing substance use disorder intervention work.”