s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

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.

“The number of our patients on high-dose opioids has decreased by more than 25 percent in the past year, which brings them towards a much safer dose,” Douglas said.

Other clinics have seen similar declines in prescription patterns. The measures are a result of greater awareness in the medical field about the dangers of over-prescribing opioids.

“It’s very clearly the medication itself is more addictive than we thought in the past, than doctors thought in the past,” said Dr. Lisa Ward, chief medical officer at Santa Rosa Community Health, which also received a $175,000 grant.

Ward said the use of opioid pain medication is relatively prevalent in the North Coast, as it is across the state and country. She said that a smaller subgroup of patients using opioid medications for pain will develop an addiction. There is no clear answer to why some people develop an addiction while other do not, though there are genetic predispositions that make some people more susceptible than others, she said.

“These are folks from all walks of life, young people to people in their 60s, working people, parents,” Ward said.

Ward said the national response to the problem has been varied, and includes insurance companies putting restrictions on the number of pills and doses that can be provided to patients. State drug databases help check to see if patients are getting controlled medications from other providers, she said.

“We’ve recently done lots and lots of training on safer and more effective ways to treat pain,” she said, adding that in some cases emergency rooms and surgeons are limiting the number of pain pills they’ll give to patients.

Ward said SRCH has seen more than a 50 percent reduction in the number of patients getting new opioid prescriptions, as well as a 50 percent reduction in the opioid dose itself.

“There’s less out there and those on it are getting less opioid medication,” she said. “We’re doing more referrals to pain specialists and we’re using other medications like methadone and suboxone, which are safer.”

MacLeamy, the director of Petaluma Health Center’s behavioral health services, said the funds will help bolster the clinics’ efforts to integrate mental health and substance use services into the facilities medical team. That means primary care doctors who identify patients with a possible opioid problem can more make same-day referrals to in-house psychologists.

The practice of integrating behavioral health services with medical services is being replicated at other clinics.

“There’s so much shame associated with addiction, if somebody is ready to do something about it we want to help them that day,” said MacLeamy.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

Show Comment