Poloncarz, Higgins announce grants from US Department of Justice, US Department of Health & Human Services; funding to be used to support existing Erie County opioid epidemic task force projects, implement probation opioid response initiative, opioid overdose review board
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was joined Tuesday by Congressman Brian Higgins, Erie County Probation Commissioner Brian McLaughlin, and Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein to announce over $3.4 million in new federal grant funding awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat the opioid epidemic in Erie County. Awarded through the federal comprehensive opioid abuse site-based program, the two U.S. DOJ grants total $1,853,233 and will be used to implement the probation opioid response initiative, which will focus on expanding services to offenders diverted to probation, along with implementing an opioid overdose review board to inform future public health practice and policy related to opioid addiction.
The HHS grant awards $1.6 million over four years to the Erie County Department of Health, in conjunction with the NYS DOH, to support existing Erie County opioid task force projects including expanding the existing response to overdose program and ensuring all first responders in the eight WNY counties have access to naloxone. All three grants require legislature approval.
"This grant funding will allow us to expand the fight against opioid abuse and help more individuals struggling with addiction, both by providing immediate support for probationers who are at risk for opioid overdose and also by helping to shape data-driven public health policies on opioid misuse in the future," Poloncarz said. "Erie County continues to lead the way in combatting opioid abuse and we will now be able to do even more, thanks to our partners and the support of Congressman Higgins."
"More than 72,000 American lives were lost last year due to this horrible epidemic," Higgins said. "Through the Erie County opiate epidemic task force, communication is leading to new ideas, improved collaboration and better outcomes. This federal award is acknowledgement of the leadership here in Erie County and provides significant resources to allow for a targeted approach aimed at ending opioid abuse and saving lives."
The probation opioid response initiative program will institute the use of a validated risk assessment tool to identify probationers who are at risk for opiate/opioid overdose and use this information to inform their treatment plans. A probation officer will supervise a newly created opioid caseload that will feature intensive supervision and a dedicated peer navigator, while another peer navigator will be hired to assist probation officers throughout the department in dealing with probationers who have opioid issues. Naloxone will be distributed to probationers on the opioid caseload at assignment and to probationers who are deemed at high risk.
"This grant will assist greatly in helping our officers work with probationers who are dealing with opioid abuse or addiction, improving outcomes across the department," McLaughlin said. "Having a caseload specifically reserved for opioid-affected individuals will inform our process from the beginning and lead to more responsive and compassionate action for all probationers."
The opioid overdose review board is modeled on similar anti-opioid efforts from around the nation including hard-hit West Virginia and seeks to inform future public health practice and policy related to primary and secondary prevention of opioid addiction and mortality. This board will help identify and address the underlying factors that contribute to opioid overdoses and use that information to help modify policy and intervention strategies with the ultimate goal of reducing overdose fatalities and opioid misuse across Erie County. This system will integrate the community voice as an essential component, using lessons learned from those who have overdosed to strategically identify needed changes in programs and policies.
Burstein added, "ECDOH is excited to receive federal funding for this unique new initiative that will work collaboratively to better understand the root causes of opioid overdoses. Recommendations from this community review board will assist in developing best practices to prevent opioid addiction and improve community treatment practices."
The $1.6 million HHS grant will provide $400,000 per year to support and expand the county's opioid epidemic task force projects with a particular emphasis on linking individuals with who have survived an overdose with treatment, expanding emergency department access to opioid dependency treatment, and expanding naloxone access to the eight-county region of Western New York.