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News / Opinion / Columns

Scott and Sanford: Washington opioid crisis requires collective impact

By Eric McNair Scott and Jared Sanford
Published: January 27, 2019, 6:01am

The opioid epidemic is considered the worst human-made epidemic in history. In 2016, there were 694 deaths from opioids in Washington state, 1,451 opioid overdose hospitalizations and 14,389 opioid substance abuse treatment admissions. Most of these deaths were from prescription opioids or from illicit drug use that started with prescription opioids.

These figures tell only part of the story. Individuals experiencing addiction face stigma and lack access to effective treatment and support. Families are struggling. Health care, social services and law enforcement are overwhelmed.

Humans created this crisis. Now, we must use our collective strengths to solve it.

Throughout Southwest Washington, emergency services, health care providers, public health, prevention coalitions and others provide services and support for those impacted by opioid use disorder. These efforts are admirable. They make a difference. However, large scale change requires broad, cross-sector coordination. It requires a collective impact approach.

Collective impact is more than just a fancy name for collaboration. It’s a disciplined and higher performing approach to achieving large scale social impact. It requires participation from a wide range of stakeholders, beyond the traditional health, addiction treatment and social service sectors. It requires organizations that wouldn’t normally interact to align around a common agenda. That includes employers, schools, a variety of community organizations and other types of entities that interact with individuals impacted by the crisis.

Collaborative efforts

Collective impact also requires certain conditions. For example, mutually reinforcing activities, local champions, continuous communication and backbone support from one or more organizations capable of managing and coordinating with participating entities, Fortunately, those conditions are emerging in Southwest Washington.

Local opioid response champions, like PeaceHealth’s Dr. John Hart, are playing an essential role in championing these efforts in their organizations and with partners like Lifeline Connections and Clark County Public Health. Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health serves as a backbone organization, convening organizations and channeling funding as part of a localized effort to address some of our most pressing health issues, including the opioid crisis. Dozens of organizational partners recently came together at the Opioid Action Summit to build additional connections and strategize solutions.

There’s much more to do. However, we are beginning to see real results. Regular collaborative meetings involving SWACH, PeaceHealth, Lifeline Connections, Columbia River Mental Health, Sea Mar Community Health Centers and others led to the creation of Lifeline’s new rapid response clinic, a low-barrier clinic that bridges the gap for those seeking treatment. When someone is ready to seek treatment, the window is often narrow. The rapid response clinic ensures that those ready to make a change don’t have to wait weeks to start treatment.

Collaborative efforts have also focused on the development of a Clark County Opioid Treatment Network, which will help create more sites in the community where individuals can start treatment and receive continued recovery support. Recovery is a long-term solution. When we break down barriers to receiving treatment and support people through the process, more people will reach recovery.

Now, as Southwest Washington leans into the effort to address the crisis, organizations and stakeholders must get involved. Contact SWACH. Get involved with the Opioid Collaboratives and prevention coalitions. There are seats at the table and significant opportunities to make a difference.

Eric McNair Scott is director of community and clinical linkages for the Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health (SWACH). Email: eric.scott@southwestach.org

Jared Sanford is CEO of Lifeline Connections. Email: jsanford@lifelineconnections.org