Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, May 25 @ 4:39 p.m. / Community, Health
Del Norte Team Involved in National Effort to End Opioid Addiction Settle On Mobile Medicated Assisted Treatment Program Project
A local coalition participating in a national effort to curb the opioid epidemic in rural areas is exploring a mobile medicated assisted treatment program for Del Norte.
A mobile MAT will save those battling addiction a trip to Humboldt County and beyond to access methadone or Suboxone, they say. It can be implemented quicker than an inpatient treatment program or a detox center. And it can be an avenue to provide education and harm reduction services along with treatment.
“Financially it’s something we can get moving and on the ground faster to meet the needs of folks,” said Jermaine Brubaker, founder of Rx Safe Del Norte. “It takes awhile to get facilities open and go through all of that and this would help pave the way for some of those things. We can see how hard this mobile MAT is and know how many extra services we’re going to need.”
Brubaker, whose organization provides Naloxone kits and training to reverse an opioid overdose, is part of the Del Norte County team participating in the Reaching Rural Initiative. She, Supervisor Valerie Starkey, Judge Darrin McElfresh and other members of the Del Norte team are headed to Arizona next month to explore mobile MAT programs that have worked there.
Del Norte is one of eight counties participating in Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Reaching Rural Initiative. In February, members traveled to Washington D.C. to discuss education, treatment and other programming to stem the tide of opioid abuse in rural communities.
Del Norte’s team also includes Yurok Associate Judge William Bowers II; Del Norte Health and Human Services Director Ranell Brown; Shiann Hogan, Behavioral Health program manager; and public defender Elly Hoopes, who is focusing on opioid addiction in juveniles.
According to Starkey, the trip to Arizona is about learning what other rural communities are doing, though those programs may not be specifically related to the mobile MAT project. One of those programs is exploring data collection systems and a way for local agencies to share that information with one another.
“There’s a real push to be able to have that information accessible by a variety of agencies so we know what services are out there and it’s easier to make referrals, to see what’s already been attempted and how we can follow up,” Starkey said.
In Del Norte, with its sparse population spread out over a wide geographic area, Starkey said she and her teammates focused on a mobile program rather than a permanent detox facility is because transportation is an issue for many.
“It’s meeting people where they’re at,” she said.
Del Norte County saw five opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the California Department of Public Health. Twenty-four people in Del Norte County visited the emergency room related to an opioid overdose in 2021 and there were six hospitalizations related to an opioid overdose in 2021, according to the CDPH.
Though Brubaker said opioid overdoses had been seen in older people in Del Norte County in previous years, recently more people in their 20s are overdosing. She blames this on fentanyl that’s made to look like Xanax and other regular prescription drugs.
Youth are also at risk, she said.
“If you look at the stats on the Healthy Kids Survey, the number one (substance) use is alcohol and marijuana,” she said. “But if you add up all the different kinds of pills and powder and things that are at risk of being contaminated by fentanyl, the use is more than marijuana and alcohol. No pill is safe unless you’re getting it direct from a pharmacy.”
The Yurok Tribal Council last week declared an emergency in response to the fentanyl crisis. In a statement, Tribal Chairman Joseph L. James said fentanyl is being mixed with the sedative Xylazine.
In 2021, 54.49 tribal citizens per 100,000 residents in Del Norte County needed emergency services for a fentanyl overdose compared to a rate of 5.87 per 100,000 for white residents.
The Yurok Tribal Court has also provided naloxone kits and training to 266 tribal staff and community members in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
In addition to visiting programs in Arizona, Del Norte’s Reaching Rural Initiative team will reach out to the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction, which has a mobile MAT unit, Brubaker said. Adding a harm reduction component to the mobile MAT could be an option that reaches those who are ready for help, she said.
“We would love to have residential treatment because we’re having to send people so far away. It’s a big barrier, sometimes it takes two to three weeks to get in,” she said. “We realize we needed something sooner than it would take us to build some of those bigger things.”
One of the next steps is figuring out where the funding for this program will come from, Starkey said. In February, the Del Norte team and others heard from representatives from major distribution programs, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Starkey said.
The Del Norte team is also narrowing down a timeline for the project, Brubaker said.
“We’re trying to get more information about what we need to make it happen and then we’ll pursue the funding and then we’ll build the thing,” she said. “We’re about to start bringing in partners this summer. Once we have a better outline of what we want to accomplish, we’ll start calling people in. We want to start talking to the community about it this summer as well to help people understand the need for it and assuage whatever fears they have about something like this in the community.”