The Warren County Community Health Coalition has received $200,000 in grant money to address the opioid epidemic in Warren, Shenandoah and Page counties.
The funds were awarded as part of the second installment of the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I didn’t write the grant for $200,000,” said Christa Shifflett, executive director of the nonprofit Warren Coalition. She said she sought considerably less funding, but then HRSA called her up asking if the Coalition could use more money for more community planning.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a great capacity building grant.”
Funding from the grant will go toward offering classes for staff and volunteers, identifying gaps in services, hiring a grant writer, and developing a database so grant writers will have access to charts and other grants all in one place.
Shifflett plans to bring experts to the area to better explain the root causes behind the opioid epidemic — “Some big guns who are kind of leaders around the opioid crisis and ways to go after it,” Shifflett said.
She also wants to train people to help at peer support levels.
“We do have some, but they’re not nearly enough,” she said.
Though this money can bring a lot of resources to the community, Shifflett said it won’t go toward treatment.
“It’s a planning grant,” she said. “There’s no direct service with this grant. I cannot directly serve people with this money.”
The grant provides money for one year, but she said she can apply for three-year grants that would provide treatment opportunities and more direct service to the region.
The opioid epidemic in the Northern Shenandoah Valley is “very bad,” Shifflett said.
This region, she said, is “one of the top 10 places in state as far as opioid use.”
In fact, she said, Warren and Winchester are often vying against each other for the most heroin prosecutions in Virginia.
“Clearly there’s a major issue,” she said.
In the coalition’s service area of Warren, Page and Shenandoah counties, the target populations are between the ages of 18 and 35, with a focus on white males as the primary subjects and then white females, according to information included in the grant.
A study conducted by the Northwestern Prevention Collaborative of 425 18- to 25-year-olds in 2016 and 543 18- to 24-year-olds in 2018 shows that this age group is becoming less concerned by the potential harm and usage of prescription pain pills and heroin.
In 2016, 10 percent of those surveyed saw little to no risk in getting high on prescription drugs, but in 2018, that number had grown to 13 percent.
Likewise, the survey saw increases in the percentage of young adults who saw little to no risk in using heroin (from 6 percent in 2016 to 8 percent in 2018), using prescription drugs within the last 30 days (remained steady at 5.5 percent), using heroin in the last 30 days (from 0 to 2 percent), and using heroin to get high during their lifetime (from 4.5 percent to 6 percent).
The only survey result that saw a decrease was in those who saw little to no risk in using prescription drugs to get high sometime during their lifetime, which fell from 20.75 percent to 20.
As grant materials concluded, “The Young Adult Survey reveals that trends in general are not moving in an encouraging direction as it relates to perception of harm and usage with data indicating that more effort needs to be put into increasing nonusers [sic] perception of harm to try and reduce the possibility of future use.”
Warren County has 2 ½ times the state rate of heroin emergency room overdoses, Shifflett said, with 63 opiate overdoses in 2017 and 29 heroin overdoses that year. The county’s heroin overdose rate is 74.1 per 100,000 people versus Virginia’s rate of 18.9.
Warren’s opiate overdose rate is 160.9, over the commonwealth’s rate of 102.
Shenandoah’s rate of 132 opiate overdoses per 100,000 people and 30.1 heroin overdoses are also higher than the state rate. Shenandoah had 57 opiate overdoses in 2017 and 13 heroin overdoses.
Page County did not see any heroin overdoses in 2017, though its opiate overdose rate is still high at 109.9 per 100,000 people and 26 overdoses that year.
Though the grant funds will go toward planning, Shifflett said the region needs more treatment centers and providers.
Page County doesn’t have any, she said. And though Warren has a Suboxone clinic through SaVida, she said that’s not enough.
“That’s a problem if you’re trying to maintain recovery, “ she said.