The national opioid epidemic claimed a total of 45 lives through overdoses in 2016 in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, a region that saw nearly 620,000 total opioid pain prescriptions written last year, according to the latest state data.
That same year brought 1,925 overdose deaths, 3,935 emergency visits and 4,095 overdose hospitalizations, the grim harvest of a medical crisis health officials and medical providers are trying their best to address.
One key front in the local battle against opioid addiction just got an economic boost. Eight North Coast health centers were awarded nearly $1.4 million in federal grants to expand mental health and substance abuse services.
The funds, from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, are part of $200 million distributed nationally and $25.6 million in California. Each of the local health centers received grants of about $175,000 to help fund treatment, prevention and awareness of opioid abuse.
At the Petaluma Health Center, the funds will be used to expand services, ramp up outreach to new patients and hire a new psychologist who can work more closely with primary care staff to identify and respond to possible opioid overuse, said Jennifer MacLeamy, director of behavioral health at Petaluma Health Center.
“We’re hoping with the additional funds we will attract patients who are not clients,” MacLeamy said.
The Petaluma Health Center operates its addiction recovery program out of its medical office building in Rohnert Park. Through the program, which started a year and a half ago, health center staff have assessed and treated about 500 patients.
The program, which offers individual and group psychotherapy as well as medication-assisted treatment, primarily caters to health center clients, with primary care physicians making referrals to mental health and substance use staff.
“We’ll do more outreach and marketing to let people know we do have this available,” she said.
State public health data shows that rural counties, including Lake County, often register higher opioid prescription rates than the state as a whole.
In Lake County, for example, there are more prescriptions than people.
In 2016, Lake County saw 1,437 opioid prescriptions for every 1,000 residents, according to data listed in the statewide Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard, a collaborative project of the state Department of Public Health, the state Department of Justice and the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
Mendocino County logged nearly 1,149 prescriptions for every 1,000 residents, while Sonoma County’s prescription rate was almost 848 per 1,000 people. North Coast rates are higher than the average state rate of 600 prescription for every 1,000 in population.
Half of the federal grant dollars, about $85,000 for each clinic, is a one-time fund infusion to be used for information technology. The other half can be used for ongoing program costs, such as staffing.
Catherine Rada, grants administrator for Mendocino Community Health Clinic, said the IT funds will be used to purchase specialized software that will help analyze the health needs of the center’s patient population.
Dr. Jerry Douglas, chief medical officer at MCHC Health Centers, said clinic staff currently monitor providers’ prescribing practices to give them support and feedback. Tracking such data has helped reduce prescribing of opioids, he said.