‘Let’s Talk Opioids’: Event highlights progress, next steps

Vaya’s efforts to prevent opioid overdose deaths and reduce substance use got attention Oct. 28 at an Asheville town hall on the opioid crisis in Buncombe County.

An overflowing crowd packed into the U.S. Cellular Center’s banquet hall to learn about progress to date and work to be done at the “Let’s Talk Opioids” event. Vaya served as a co-sponsor alongside the county, the city of Asheville and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).

Ellen Stroud, Vaya's Regional Opioid Response Coordinator
Ellen Stroud, Vaya’s Regional Opioid Response Coordinator

Local efforts are making an impact, presenters said. After years of sharp increases, opioid overdose deaths in Buncombe County decreased by 30 percent from 2017 to 2018. During the same time, however, the county saw an increase in overdose-related emergency department visits.

Event panelist Ellen Stroud, Vaya’s Regional Opioid Response Coordinator, said Vaya has worked with the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition to distribute more than 7,000 naloxone kits free of charge to law enforcement agencies, first responders, direct service providers and community members.

Vaya also succeeded in using grant funds to increase medication-assisted treatment (MAT) capacity for uninsured individuals by 58 percent regionwide. Since 2016, Vaya network providers in Buncombe County have provided MAT to 3,300 people who were not previously receiving the service.

Other programs and partnerships are underway, including efforts to increase access to naloxone, treatment and peer support at the Buncombe County Detention Center.

“Our intention at this event was to report on what has been done to fight the opioid epidemic,” Stroud said. “We did that, and it showed the overdose rate is decreasing, more people are getting treatment and collaborative work is taking place. This event felt like a launching pad to increase our continued efforts and to be innovative to make sure all people in need of treatment have access to care.”

The event also featured a special exhibit – the Memorial Prayer Ribbon, a banner with more than 100 handwritten notes and names created by people who have lost loved ones to overdose and substance use. The ribbon serves as a reminder to the lives lost to opioids in the local community.

Read news coverage of the event on WLOS.

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