The opioid epidemic is a national issue impacting communities across the country. It was declared a public health emergency in October 2017. Communities have mobilized at the national, state, and local level to address the problem, and Cooperative Extension has partnered with them in their efforts. The drivers and impacts of the opioid crisis in communities are complex and require a multi-level response. We employed a stakeholder engagement methodology, the SEED Method, to create multisector action plans to address the opioid epidemic in a rural community in Southwest Virginia with some of the highest opioid prescription and overdose rates.
It is important to involve those impacted by health issues in the identification and prioritization of solutions to ensure that the actions taken are based on an understanding of the local situation and reflect the communities concerns and needs. We worked with an existing community-university partnership to apply the SEED Method, engaging over 60 key stakeholders from the community at various levels of involvement in evaluating the factors impacting opioid misuse, developing strategies to address it, and mobilizing for action. The community identified four priority strategies, and formed workgroups to accomplish them. Over the course of eighteen months and despite the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, these workgroups were able to establish a collaborative program between the local behavioral health provider and private hospital system to provide continuum of care for patients entering the emergency room with opioid overdose, establish a drug court, create a community resources awareness video, and expand youth substance use prevention education in the school system.
The community team members felt that the accomplishments of the workgroups were the greatest outcome of the project. They highlighted that the structure provided by the SEED Method helped bring organizations and individuals together to network and align their efforts for action. The community-based principles upon which the SEED Method is based help foster a significant level of trust between the community team members. Community engagement is essential to responding effectively to issues impacting the quality of life of the residents. Those interested in learning more about the SEED Method or receiving technical assistance to use it can join our sub-group HERE, The SEED Method, or contact us HERE.