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Posted 06/09/2021

Uniting Resources in Rural Oklahoma

Southeast Oklahoma has experienced an alarming surge in illness and deaths due to opioids in recent years. While the rate of drug use in rural regions is lower than in urban areas, death rates from drug overdose are actually higher and rising according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rural communities have historically lacked access to health services, transportation and resources necessary to receive treatment for substance use disorders. The population health team at NCWR develops targeted, research-based programs to improve these health disparities.

Grants such as the Rural Opioid Technical Assistance program enable NCWR to partner with Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Services to improve education, prevention, treatment of opioid use disorders in six rural counties in southeast Oklahoma.

A fundamental goal of the ROTA grant is to encourage collaboration with existing, local resources to close gaps in health services and eliminate unnecessary duplication of efforts.

OCES has roots in rural Oklahoma communities dating back over 100 years. Extension educators live and work in rural southeast Oklahoma towns training and educating people of all ages on topics ranging from farming, ranching and business needs to youth, family and aging programs.

This valuable link is a reliable and trusted pathway into rural communities making it easier to disseminate information about substance use disorders to a broad range of individuals who may not normally receive this information.

NCWR and OCES experts are connecting families with healthcare resources and assisting with community events such as opioid prevention courses and National Prescription Take Back Days and NARCAN® distribution events.

“There is a lot of stigma associated with substance use disorders, but also with rural Oklahoma. Our relationship with OCES is helping us access folks who may not typically be willing to talk about things that are so stigmatized,” said Paul Thomas, ROTA program manager. “A huge benefit to this relationship is that it makes this intervention more sustainable. We hope that through increased community buy-in and the relationship between NCWR and the OCES, we will continue moving things out of silos into collaboration and cooperation among community members.”

The ROTA community engagement facilitator, Emily McKenzie, Ph.D., explains how working with ROTA has personally changed her perspective. “It was an important turning point for me to realize that this isn’t just something that happens to other people. This happens to people I know. Families I’ve cared about. This is happening to all of us in Oklahoma,” said McKenzie.

To bring treatment closer to home, many rural community health centers have partnered with the Tulsa-based NCWR Addiction Recovery Clinic to provide addiction treatment services virtually.

“The opportunity to utilize virtual medicine in rural areas allows Oklahomans to access gold-standard addiction medicine care from NCWR, something that was not previously available to many,” said Kelly Dunn, M.D., NCWR executive director of clinical treatment.

There are a lot of passionate people and organizations across Oklahoma initiating programs and services to fight opioid use disorders. The NCWR population health team believes they are the connective tissue that unifies these resources, leaders, experts and community members to make an exponentially greater impact on the opioid crisis in rural Oklahoma.

Deanne Vick | June 2021