Resources to fight a crisis

They meet once a month on the third Monday. The topic is a deadly crisis which has spread across the nation, and which is reaching into northwest Iowa as well.

The North Central Iowa Opioid Task Force first formed in January, to help share information and resources between a wide range of experts.

Webster County Public Health, the 22-county region known as County Social Services, and the Fort Dodge Community Health Center were among those represented Monday at the meeting at Community and Family Resources’ outpatient center. Members from other counties have attended, including law enforcement from Webster, Pocahontas, Calhoun and Humboldt Counties.

This diversity makes it easy to share expertise.

“This is why I love groups like this. You get to know so many resources going on in your community that you had no idea,” said Effie Hill, rural outreach liaison, health educator for the Iowa Department of Public Health. “And I live here.”

CFR organized the group, said CFR Prevention Specialist Shelly Zabel.

“We do know people are experiencing opioid use disorder,” Zabel said. “We did some community needs assessments early on — CFR did, and brought that forward to the task force.”

Zabel hopes the task force will grow. She and other members discussed their desire to include people from the hospital, and real estate agents.

Next month the group hopes to have a conference call option, so more can participate even if they can’t drive to Fort Dodge.

“It would be nice to have more people on hand. I think the more people we have involved the further the reach,” Zabel said.

Why real estate?

“One suggestion was we might want to have a realtor or someone who represents area realtors on our group. Oftentimes people will drug seek, and they’ll go to people’s homes that are on open houses, or showing a home that’s been listed,” she said. “I know a lot of people don’t see the reason they should lock them up, but they really should.”

One problem the region faces is a lack of providers, the group said. Few providers are currently offering the medicated assisted treatment, known as MAT, and some seeking help have to travel as far as Ames, Zabel said.

Lydia Schnuur, representing the FDCHC, said several providers have gone through training to offer this.

Zabel said much of the funding CFR received through the Iowa opioid strategic response is for treatment — but so far few are taking advantage of that. Now, CFR will see if they can put more of that funding into education.

“That’s one of the things I think a town hall would help the most with. People are unaware they can get help,” she said.

A potential town hall was one of the dicussion topics Monday. The hope is to hold it in June — although that’s still tentative — and each attendee offered their knowledge of where might be the best place for it, and who could be invited as speakers.

One CFR staff member has been training area first responders how to administer Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid during an overdose.

“She has been kind of busy,” Zabel said. “She has done Naloxone and overdose training with the Humboldt County Law Enforcement Center, Pocahontas County sheriff’s office, Calhoun County sheriff’s office, Dayton EMS and police department, Belmond; she did one with Iowa Central Community College school security, and she did an overview for the Buena Vista human service provider class, and she did another overview at Webster County Crime Stoppers, and she did two for staff within the agency.”

Zabel also talked about changes at the state level. According to the IDPH’s weekly Opioid update, a law is being considered that would make it mandatory for prescribers to use a Prescription Monitoring Program to track who is getting opioid prescriptions.

“Before this, it was optional. A lot of providers said it wasn’t easy to use. I know they were looking at some changes to make it easier for everyone to use,” Zabel said.

House File 2377 has passed the Iowa House, and moved on to the Senate floor.

CFR looked at healthcare data, law enforcement data, and where prescriptions were coming from before bringing together the task force. Now that people are aware of the problem, certain things are being tracked more than before. And CFR and other groups are reaching out to let people know there is help.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand how people get from, ‘I have a legitimate prescription from my doctor,’ to heroin. But in our brains it does the same thing,” Zabel said. “Once they can’t get that prescription, they seek other ways to fill that need.”