Roanoke health leaders matched in mentorship program for opioid epidemic

Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 5:56 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Roanoke City Alleghany Health District is the recipient of a grant program to strengthen the capacity to support prevention, treatment and recovery services in our addiction epidemic.

This partnership will last a year and aims to give leaders insight into new programs and opportunities to better our response to substance use disorder in our hometowns.

The Roanoke City Alleghany Health District is a piece of the larger puzzle in responding to our addiction crisis.

Recent data show us the fatal overdoses in Virginia in 2022 appear to be slightly less than those recorded for 2021, but still far too many.

“Regardless of whether there’s a slight improvement or not, there are still far too many people who are dying of overdoses,” said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, leader of the RCAHD.

Responding to the need is an overwhelming task for an agency taxed to its limits in the last few years, thanks to the pandemic.

But Roanoke is getting some extra support all the way across the country.

“This program came about as a direct need to address community by community, these overdose rates and the substance abuse and misuse epidemic in the country,” said Lori Freeman, Chief Executive Officer with the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

NACCHO approved the Roanoke City Alleghany Health District for a Reducing Overdose through Community Approaches or ROCA grant.

This means Roanoke will be partnered with a mentor health department in Washington to learn new ways to approach the needs here at home.

“So we’re going to be partnering with King County, Seattle, on identifying opportunities to improve our data collection in a way that we can help our partners change some of what they’re doing, hopefully, you know, do evidence-based data informed real time decision making with our partners,” said Morrow.

Grant money will help support the efforts of the mentors and the mentees on their journey to improving care and access in response to one our greatest challenges.

“Well, you couldn’t have a better mentor in King County!” said Freeman. “King County, Seattle is a rock star in the world of public health doing really cutting edge work... Roanoke City will certainly benefit from this mentorship in many ways.”

The Health Department in Seattle was unable to talk to us about the program for this story. But in researching their work, we see that a few years ago they stood up a public-facing non-fatal overdose dashboard.

According to a 2022 report from the Seattle Public health leaders, this dashboard helps them get a more accurate count of overdose incidents and improved their ability to detect overdose upticks and clusters.