Rural Health Focus On Opioid Deaths

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The Louisiana Department of Health announced in September 2018 that it had received a Federal grant of more than $24 million toward addressing the opioid epidemic in our state, said Dr. Tiffany Jennings, licensed psychologist in Shreveport, and Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA) Rural Health Coordinator for the American Psychological Association, and chair of the LPA the Rural and TeleHealth Services Committee.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) almost 200 people per day died from drug overdose in 2017, more than 72,000 Americans during the year. The overwhelming majority of these overdose deaths involved an opioid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the rates of drug overdose deaths are rising in rural areas, surpassing the numbers in urban areas.

“This grant was funded from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Dept. of Health and Human Services,” said Dr. Jennings. “The money will be used for improving access to treatment, prevention strategies, improving surveillance data and to enable health centers and other agencies to expand integrated services treatment.”

“But we’ve still got a long way to go,” said Jennings. “Mental Health America ranked Louisiana 45th for access to mental health care. In 2016, the Medicaid expansion did provide insurance coverage for more than 430,000 people, it’s difficult to obtain mental health services. Many doctors and agencies will not accept Medicaid due to reimbursement issues and low reimbursement rates. Agencies that do take Medicaid have a waiting list,” she said.

Dr. Jennings has previously served as a neuropsychologist at Overton Brooks Veterans Administration Medical Center in Shreveport and also neuropsychologist for the U.S. Army’s Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic in Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana.

As Rural Health Coordinator for APA and LPA, Dr. Jennings has said that one of the goals of her committee is to “develop an ongoing community where those in rural areas, or who serve rural populations, can collaborate with each other.” She said that sharing experiences as to how to set up various telehealth services and also to review current guidelines will be important goals ….”

“Another objective in mind is initiating and continuing the conversation regarding the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Jennings previously. “… it’s a major focus of concern.”

“Telemedicine has been gaining more ground in treatment, particularly for those in rural areas where treatment services may be limited, or non-existent,” she said. “University Health in Shreveport was highlighted in the local media (KTBS.com) highlighting the advantages of telemedicine –such as cost, reduced transportation burden–and that telemedicine can be as effective as traditional in-person treatments,” said Jennings.

This past fall the USDA launched an interactive data tool aimed to help communities build grassroots strategies to stem the opioid epidemic, to help rural leaders make data-driven decisions for their communities.

The USDA invites leaders to see the many ways your community can partner with USDA to meet immediate needs in this fight. According to the USDA, their program resources can help rural communities address many of the deeper, systemic, and long-term issues making these places vulnerable to the opioid crisis in the first place, the agency notes. Their infographic illustrates how USDA can help rural communities respond to the opioid epidemic by addressing some of the root causes.

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