Organization receives federal funding for opioid treatment program

Northwestern Community Services has received a $400,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the federal Health and Human Services, to partly fund a program aimed at providing opioid addicts with support and treatment.

Michael Elwell, the CEO of Northwestern Community Services, said his organization will be hiring people who have previously gone through treatment for addictions to meet with opioid addicts and offer support and help. People in the program will also engage in recreational activities and may, on a case by case basis, receive the drug suboxone to help wean them off of opioids.

“We’re setting up a whole array of services to a person who is really, really close to addiction,” Elwell said.

Elwell said that Northwestern Community Services is going to advertise and then interview people to serve as peers for people enrolled in the program. The experience these peers have grappling with addictions can help people seeking treatment overcome their addictions.

“[The peer support] kind of helps us engage with that person,” Elwell said.

Elwell said that the program isn’t entirely new for his organization. He described it as an expansion of an existing program in Winchester aimed at treating addicts of opioids.

Because of the program in Winchester, Elwell said, “We’re very familiar with the population, and we’re very familiar with the peer system involved.”

The Winchester program quickly reached capacity, though, as the heroin epidemic has raged throughout the area.

“It’s been pretty much an eye-opening experience,” Elwell said, as his organization has dealt with high levels of demand due to the epidemic.

The demand Elwell has seen is unlikely to abate this next year, as the opioid epidemic continues to accelerate. According to preliminary figures from the Virginia Department of Health, 1,113 people in the state died of an opioid overdose last year–a steep rise from the 811 people who died in 2015.

Those numbers, Elwell said, mean that he wants to see this program become “as big as potentially possible.”

“[This program is] only going to be in essence a drop in the bucket as far as the needs are concerned,” Elwell said.

The organization also received some grant funding through the state of Virginia for the program, Elwell said.

Even with high numbers of enrollment, Elwell said that only so many people can be successfully treated with programs like his.

“A key component is you need to want to have treatment, you need to work for treatment,” Elwell said.

Elwell said the staff at Northwestern Community Services tries to be creative in order to get people to seek and want treatment. But they don’t always succeed.

Elwell said he hopes to launch the program in July.