WEST LAFAYETTE — The isolation and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the opioids epidemic in rural America even worse.
In response, a team of university, health care, faith-based and local government entities have banded together to bring help to a part of rural, east-central Indiana hit hard by an exacerbated substance misuse problem.
The Consortium for Opioids Response Engagement-East Central Indiana (CORE-ECI) will focus on the communities of Blackford and Jay counties, two medically underserved populations that have seen significant mortality and opioid-use rates.
To launch the effort, Purdue received a three-year, nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Service Administration’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program.
The effort is led by Purdue Healthcare Advisors, a nonprofit health care outreach initiative that is part of Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering (RCHE) at Purdue. RCHE serves as a national nucleus for driving high-impact improvement in health care delivery by mobilizing the intellectual strengths of Purdue faculty and partners.
In partnership, Indiana University Health — specifically IU Health Blackford Hospital and IU Health Jay Hospital — will serve as clinical lead for the consortium.
The Jay County Drug Prevention Coalition Inc., Blackford County Community Corrections, Hester Hollis Concern Center and A Better Life-Brianna’s Hope Inc. also are partnering. The program will run through August 2024.
“Public health outcomes in Indiana as compared to other regions of the country are in the bottom quartile,” said Melanie Cline, assistant director for RCHE and interim director for CORE-ECI. “We need to do better job of thinking creatively to utilize existing resources and build new ways of working together, particularly in our rural communities, so we can thrive. We are using the power of Purdue’s land-grant mission for outreach in health care at the community level. Purdue and its partners can help to build the relationships and connections to the health system that have been missing.”
Why Blackford and Jay counties?
Both counties have been hit hard by economic factors and have limited health care resources. In 2019, Jay County was listed in the top 10% among Indiana communities most at risk for substance abuse, according to data from the Indiana State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup.
When opioid use disorder spiked from 2014-18, Blackford County’s death overdose rate of 67.4 per 100,000 for those ages 15-64 was twice that of the state’s rate and three times that of the nation’s.
Today, the rate for residents dying of drug overdose in the two counties has tapered off, but the nonfatal drug overdose rate in Jay County remains one-third higher than the rest of the state, according to the Indiana Drug Data Dashboard (2021).
The consortium aims to increase access to medication-assisted treatment; provide early intervention with a focus on health disparities, stigma and bias, and cultural insensitivities; and form a seamless system of evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery services.
Embedded into Indiana’s 92 counties for more than 100 years, Purdue Extension will be involved in evaluating the impact of social determinants of health on substance use disorder response.
“In the past few years, IU Health has made a significant investment in east-central Indiana to increase access to health care services, including behavioral health,” said David Hyatt, president of IU Health Blackford. “The important work of this consortium is a strong response to Gov. Holcomb’s 2017 call for health care to implement a data-driven system focused on SUD prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery and enforcement. And it aligns well with IU Health’s $50 million strategic plan to undertake a broad array of addiction research, policy analysis and workforce development programs across the state.”