Leishia Smallwood, MPA, director of AHEC, left, and Bridget Forshee, senior program developer, are overseeing two programs focused on helping people affected by the opioid epidemic.

AHEC Community Programs Focus on Opioid Crisis

Published December 13, 2019

The New York State Area Health Education Center System (AHEC), based in the Department of Family Medicine, has received two federal grants for programs aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic.

“Research has shown that communities plagued by stressors such as low income, high unemployment, poverty and other challenges are often disproportionately impacted by drug use. ”
Leishia Smallwood, MPA
Director of the New York State Area Health Education Center System

While the epidemic is ubiquitous across the United States, New York State has consistently had opioid overdose rates higher than the national average, according to Leishia Smallwood, MPA, director of AHEC, and principal investigator on the grants.

Expanding Prevention, Treatment Services

AHEC’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) has received $1 million in funding over three years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Its goal is to strengthen and expand substance use (including opioids) prevention, treatment and recovery service delivery in high-risk rural areas by specifically working with a consortium of direct care providers, local county health agencies and community non-profit organizations.

Together, the consortium will:

  • identify and implement comprehensive Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) screening, treatment, tracking and recovery services
  • develop and provide extensive training related to substance use prevention, community and family education, professional development, and provider/local community resources and services

“Some of the unique problems rural communities face in combating opioid drug use is the lack of resources, services and programs for individuals residing in these areas,” Smallwood says.

“Research has shown that communities plagued by stressors such as low income, high unemployment, poverty and other challenges are often disproportionately impacted by drug use,” she adds.

These markers are prevalent in many of the rural counties across New York, most of which have since been identified as being at high risk for opioid misuse.

Partnering With Direct Service Providers

Two AHEC Centers (Hudson Mohawk AHEC and Western New York Rural AHEC) will be collaborating with direct service providers to help support the initiatives of the program.

They will partner with the following organizations: Spectrum Health & Human Services of WNY, Montgomery County Health Department and Citizen Advocates Inc.

Specific goals of the program are:

  • prevention: reduce the occurrence and associated risk of OUD through activities such as community and provider education, harm reduction strategies, and referral to treatment and recovery support services
  • treatment: implement and expand access to evidence-based practices, including medication-assisted treatment with psychosocial intervention, and eliminate or reduce treatment costs for uninsured and underinsured patients
  • recovery: implement and expand access to recovery and treatment options that help people battling OUD start and stay in recovery, including ensuring access to support services such as, but not limited to, transportation, housing, peer recovery, case management, employment assistance, and child care
  • sustainability: support efforts for achieving financial and programmatic sustainability beyond period of performance

Aiding Employment Needs of Affected Women

The Re-Employment Support and Training for the Opioid Related Epidemic Program (RESTORE) has received $500,000 in funding over three years from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The grant will focus on addressing the employment needs of women affected by the opioid crisis and combat its impact for those women throughout Western New York, by working with community partners that have direct experience with offering programming to women, Smallwood says.

Specific aims of the grant are to:

  • provide employment training opportunities, career service supports and other soft skill development education
  • connect a cohort of women to specialized or credentialed employment training (for example: certified nursing certificate, peer advocacy support school, practice facilitator training)
  • connect new trainees to open vacancies in the region
  • develop collaborative relationships with external agencies to expand referrals and linkages to employment focused and supportive services

Enrollment Through YWCA, Other Agencies

Smallwood says the main partner for the RESTORE grant is the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier, which has an extensive history of supporting the area.

“The YWCA will provide advice and expertise related to program development and recruitment for women-only populations and support and expand program recruitment efforts,” she says.

Women will be recruited for enrollment and participation in the program with support from the YWCA and Spectrum, as well as through outreach to other local community-based organizations.

Leveraging Expertise in Workforce Development

Smallwood says it is expected the RESTORE program will train a minimum of 200 participants via at least 12 job-related trainings, such as resume writing, soft skills development and job-searching skills.

Other goals include:

  • connecting at least 20 women to supportive or other career services not directly offered
  • providing connections and financial support to credentialed employment training for a minimum of 20 women
  • securing employment for a minimum of 10 women after one year of program completion

“This program will supplement ongoing efforts by AHEC to counteract the effects of the ongoing crisis in the region and across the state, while leveraging our history as a workforce development organization,” Smallwood says.