Local Organization On The Front Lines Of Opioid Fight
On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared the nation’s opioid crisis a "public health emergency." The announcement paves the way for expanding efforts to combat opioid abuse, but it fell short of the administration’s originally-stated intention to declare a national emergency on opioids. That decision would have led to a rapid injection of federal dollars to address the crisis.
But the "public health emergency" designation was still welcome news, according to Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro’s (HPCG) Risa Hanau.
“While some people might say it wasn’t enough, I think anything that is a good first step is helpful,” says Hanau. “We deal with so many people who are struggling with their grief not only because they lost someone due to the opioid crisis, but because they don’t feel they can talk about it, and they weren’t free to discuss it with others while it was going on.”
She says, if attention to the issue brings along with it more dollars, expanded services, and an opening of conversation, Thursday’s declaration will be a step in the right direction.
In 2015, there were more than 1,100 opioid-related deaths in North Carolina, a 73 percent increase from a decade earlier, with Forsyth and Guilford among the most affected counties in the state. Hanau says that even with the recent release of sobering statistics like these, local awareness of the crisis remains limited.
“I recently had someone say to me, ‘Is it really a problem in the Greensboro area? I never hear about it. I don’t know if there’s a problem here,’” says Hanau. “And that anyone in our community can feel that way lets us know that it is [still] so stigmatized. So, we need to be able to bring that light forth so that people not only who are struggling with the addiction can get help, but that families also get the support and know where to turn without feeling that they’re going to be criticized or somehow looked down upon because that’s a part of their life.”
White House officials claim the public health emergency declaration will allow grant money to be used to combat opioid abuse, expanding the reach of medical treatment to rural areas ravaged by opioid use.
Hanau says she’d like to see some of those dollars directed toward education.
“If grants allow our schools, community centers and faith communities to have coherent and consistent programming around ways to help young people stay away from pain killers, and getting involved in the use of drugs—substance abuse, opioid abuse—then we’re going to have long term gains,” she says. “Because, what we see at HPCG are family members coming together after they’ve lost someone to this crisis. If grant monies and shifting of the environment gives us education and support to people before they have that problem, then we’re moving toward that long-term fix.”