BURNSVILLE • The Tishomingo County Community Coalition (TC3) has expanded their services in order to meet community needs to address opioid and other drug abuse in Tishomingo County.

TC3 added Laura Poling as the prevention coordinator and Shana Price Hollon as the youth coordinator in response to what the community saw as primary needs. The first primary need was safe housing for those who wanted to be alcohol and drug free but had nowhere to live, which is why TC3 opened Safe Haven. Since opening earlier this year, they have provided 913 nights of shelter through the end of July, with 87 percent being Tishomingo residents.

“The number two need we saw was prevention because sometimes adults do not get rehabilitated,” said Executive Director Kathy Best. “...[We have to start young to] keep them from ever starting instead of trying to rehabilitate adults.”

Creating a youth coalition will be a key component of their new mission, based on prevention research that shows most use starts among youth. Poling said it is why “the key is working with youth and stopping the opioid use before it even begins.”

“Our county has done a wonderful job with rehabilitation. That’s why prevention is now a goal for us. We want to be able to use those services, but if we don’t ever have to use them because there’s never drug use, then that’s even better,” Poling said.

Best said they received a request for proposal (RFP) from the Tishomingo County Economic Development Foundation for a grant with the Mississippi Public Health Institute. Funds are through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Overdose Data to Action program. Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) is a three-year cooperative agreement that began in September 2019 that will focus on the drug overdose epidemic, according to the CDC’s website. Funds will support state, territorial, county, and city health departments in obtaining data on overdose morbidity and mortality and create prevention and response efforts based on that data, the website states.

The initial RFP was informed by both 2017 and 2018 CDC data on the opioid prescribing rates. In 2017, Tishomingo’s prescribing rate per 100 people was 133.7, while Mississippi’s was 92.9. Tishomingo’s rate more than doubled the national average of 59 per 100 persons. Despite a decrease, Tishomingo would still have a rate higher than the state and national average the following year. In 2018, Tishomingo had a prescribing rate of 108.5 per 100 persons in comparison to a Mississippi rate of 76.8 and national average of 51.4.

Prevention is a “totally new avenue” for TC3, and MSPHI has been very hands on to assist them, Poling said. TC3 finishes year one of the OD2A program in August. The primary goal is collecting two community services from the community to see where services are needed. One survey will be for those ages 10 to 24, while the other will be for those ages 24 and older. However, through their outreach efforts, Poling hopes to be able to address other needs as part of the TC3 mission to work together to meet county needs.

“Yes, we’re under a grant that’s about opioid use, but I’m a prevention coordinator and that is all kinds of prevention. That is not just drug use prevention, so we want to help out in any way we can whether that be in mental health, whether that be hunger, whatever the needs are,” Poling said.

The results of both surveys will be separate. Surveys are only open to Tishomingo residents and are designed to see how people in Tishomingo view drug use in their county. The voluntary survey takes less than three minutes and includes questions explaining what an opioid is, if it is a problem in the community, views on young adults using opioids or other drugs, if they check prescription labels before taking medication or know how to dispose of medication property among other questions. There are also questions about views on young adults using opioids or other drugs. All responses are confidential. TC3 plans to offer future surveys.

COVID-19 has delayed and impacted some of TC3’s work. Coalition meetings are occurring online, and Best said it was possible future meetings will be moved to Facebook Live. TC3 is also planning to bring awareness for International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The current goal is to host a FB event and offer ribbons for sale for individuals and businesses to display on their front doors.

“It’s just to bring awareness that it’s OK to talk about. It is a part of mental health and does happen. It’s just the stigma needs to be lowered so more people can talk about it,” Loling said. “There’s such a negative stigma attached to it but with these prescription pills, they happen way more often than people think.”

RFP funding came later due to COVID-19. A key component of getting survey responses was going to be through offering the surveys through schools, but with schools having delayed starts, the coalition has had to think creatively on how to get surveys out, Poling said. While social media outreach on Facebook helped them reach older adults, TC3 plans to get out in the community to reach youth, including offering incentive gift cards to complete the survey. Despite challenges, Poling believes TC3’s work is needed now more than ever, especially for youth.

“I really believe COVID affects the youth more than people think…. I definitely think there is going to be more for us to do. It is going to be honestly just finding out what those needs are,” Poling said. “That’s why we’ve been going live on our Facebook page, we’re really trying to get out in our community and make those connections so they feel comfortable coming to us and saying, ‘These are the needs that we have’ so we know how to help.”

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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