Litchfield County Opiate Task Force
- Need: To reduce substance use and harm from the opioid crisis in rural Litchfield County, Connecticut.
- Intervention: A community network has come together to improve treatment and develop creative ideas and interventions as a response to the opioid crisis.
- Results: More than 50 people from various sectors of the community meet each month. The LCOTF has also improved service coordination, access, and cross-sector communication; helped expand the number of agencies offering medication-assisted treatment; and introduced harm reduction resources.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 Connecticut had an age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths of 30.9, the 11th highest rate in the country.
To address the opioid epidemic, the McCall Center and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in rural Litchfield County, Connecticut, formed the Litchfield County Opiate Task Force (LCOTF) in December 2013. The LCOTF has over 60 member organizations, including state and local elected officials, first responders, state agencies, courts, behavioral health providers, and people in recovery.
There is no specific criterion for joining the LCOTF, except having ideas or resources to contribute to finding solutions. The LCOTF does not use a formal structure but has developed a memorandum of understanding and a Media Policy to ensure a unified message.
Ongoing initiatives include:
- Community case manager stationed at the emergency department, who helps people with addiction connect to treatment and other support services
- Coordinating recovery coaches in the region who help people through the treatment process and provide outreach to increase service efficiency and coverage. This includes an ongoing monthly meeting for all such positions in the region.
- Network Coordinator, a full-time staff person for the LCOTF, to improve interagency connections and referrals, engage communities and other stakeholders in solutions, and manage LCOTF initiatives
- Narcan training and distribution by the LCOTF and its participating partners
- Stigma reduction efforts and ongoing community education about the root causes of addiction, such as trauma
- Collaboration with law enforcement in several communities to conduct overdose follow-ups alongside a recovery coach in order to connect individuals and their loved ones to treatment and support resources
- Mobile kit called the Harm Reduction Rover, with supplies such as naloxone, fentanyl testing kits, wound care, safe sex supplies, and syringe exchange
The LCOTF is also currently working on:
- Investigating voluntary best practices for rural sober living homes
- Piloting an online referral system to improve timely connections to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This will further assist in coordinating expanded MAT service availability in the community.
- Developing a plan to respond to spikes in fatal and nonfatal overdoses with local government, law enforcement, and providers. The plan is to include an alert system and the deployment of outreach and harm reduction services to the affected communities as soon as possible.
- Expanding access to supportive services during the evenings and weekends, including the hiring of a new support position to cover these hours and assist with community response initiatives to overdoses
- Building a website with information about substance use disorder that is specific and helpful to the audience, along with local resources and opportunities to get involved
More than 50 people meet each month. The LCOTF also held a SCOPE of Pain training for over 100 providers and hosted an Invitation to Change Approach training for family members of people with substance use disorders. In addition, LCOTF members received funding to add another case manager to cover evenings and weekends in the hospital.
After the state began requiring ambulances to report fatal and nonfatal overdoses (and whether or not naloxone was used) to the Connecticut Poison Control Center, the LCOTF began to use the poison control center's overdose map to determine hotspots and send out a spike alert. If there are more than three overdoses in Litchfield County in a 24-hour period, the LCOTF sends out outreach workers and harm reduction resources.
The LCOTF helped expand the number of agencies offering MAT, which is now available at all behavioral health providers in the service area. In addition, LCOTF members have made important connections within the community and worked to reduce stigma about substance use, including one LCOTF member creating a documentary called Uprooting Addiction.
LCOTF members report that the presence of fentanyl makes their work much harder, so the overdose numbers haven't dropped as much as the LCOTF would like.
It can take a lot of work and red tape to get separate organizations to work together. It's also important to build trust and educate the public in order to reduce stigma. For example, people in the more affluent towns believed that opioid use wasn't a problem where they lived, and people in the poorer communities worried that the focus on opioids would deter people and businesses from moving to the area.
LCOTF members are also currently working on a way to send spike alerts via phone instead of their current method of posting information on social media.
Get first responders and other key stakeholders involved right away. In addition, think of how community members will perceive your work and have a clear message that addresses any potential concerns. Designate one or two dedicated chairs to lead the group, but don't have one organization's agenda drive the work.
The LCOTF develops initiatives as a group but, because it is a grassroots group without its own nonprofit status, member organizations take turns applying for funding opportunities as the fiduciary and primary leads. For example, since the McCall Center acts as LCOTF co-chair and hosts the meetings, it was the lead applicant for private foundation funding used to hire a network coordinator in September 2018.
Another need was finding a way to help people seeking treatment navigate and access the different resources available, so a member organization applied for and obtained funding for a network coordinator position. This coordinator created a smart spreadsheet listing resources and availability, so people will be able to log on to the website (when available) and find available appointments to access MAT.
The LCOTF begins every monthly meeting with an opportunity for people to share success stories and other positive news. It's a great way to boost morale and remind people what they've accomplished.
Contact InformationLauren Pristo, MPH, Task Force Network Coordinator
Litchfield County Opiate Task Force
Community and faith-based initiatives
Networking and collaboration
March 27, 2020
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