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Tompkins County Addressing Opioid Crisis Through Investment in Local Organizations

During the Tuesday, September 19, 2023, meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature, a slate of grant awards to community organizations were approved unanimously. The awards fund applicants who serve Tompkins County residents by strengthening the local overdose prevention network, expanding harm reduction strategies and improving collaboration, and/or workforce investment.

The following awardees submitted grant applications to the Tompkins County Opioid Task Force. The Task Force used research, experience and collaboration with experts and individuals with lived experience to select the final awardees from over $1.3 million in proposed projects.

  • OAR Peer Crossing Program
    • $163,587 to increase the number of housed individuals working to overcome their chemical dependency by providing wrap around services, (two (2) COTI peers, mental health association access, community support groups, assistance/advocacy in applying for eligible benefits, wellness / treatment court peer support, and exploring educational and employment opportunities) along with stable housing, the program’s goal is to increase housing tenure and eventual long term permanent housing.
  • REACH Community Wrap Around Services for Overdose Prevention and Wellness
    • $129,000 for supporting an outreach/community services supervisor, certified peer recovery training, de-escalation training, and staff-wellness education in support of the existing REACH Community Wraparound Services for Overdose Prevention and Wellness (RCWS) program. 
  • ReUse Skills Training for Tompkins County Residents in Recovery
    • $115,375 for ReUse’s ReSET job training program which is designed to engage and assist individuals with any kind of barrier to employment in building skills, stability, and connections to successfully seek long-term, unsubsidized employment, this particular funding will provide training/access for at least 18 people in opioid recovery.
  • TST-BOCES Project TEACH Fellowship
    • $107,000 for a comprehensive educational fellowship program that will create a new tier of pediatric and adolescent mental health (MH) providers (Doctors, PAs, and NPs) with a year of intensive training in Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatry (ages 2-21) that is unlike any and has potential to serve as a model for the rest of the country.
  • Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services Expansion of OUD Services and Workforce Capacity
    • $104,233 for purchase of a Narcan vending machine and Bells AI software for counseling documentation efficiency & data dashboards development.
  • Alcohol and Drug Council Transportation to Care and Supports
    • $58,679 for purchase of a vehicle to support transportation provided by Certified Recovery Peer Advocates (CRPAs), to members of our
      community for whom transportation is a barrier to OUD care.
  • Shelf-Help at the Tompkins County Public Library: Helping to Keep Our Community Safe
    • $37,500 for programming to provide information, resources, and connections to the community including up-to-date educational media (books, videos, studies, etc.), training and education of public-facing staff, increasing public access to harm reduction materials such as Naloxone (via Narcan vending machine), and facilitation of a guest speaker series open to the public.
  • Ithaca United Soccer Club Drug Overdose Education and Prevention for Athletes
    • $7,000 for hosting awareness/educational campaigns/events in parks alongside ongoing sporting gatherings, overdose prevention training and education for athletes, increasing access to harm reduction supplies and support for athletes, and supplies for community awareness campaigns. 

The task force examined survey response data collected earlier this year regarding the opioid crisis and proposed strategies to address it. Nearly 600 community members provided input through the survey, 7.5% of whom had personal experience with opioid misuse or have Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), 37.9% are directly impacted persons such as family members or friends, 23.9% were treatment or service providers, and 64%, were concerned community members. When asked about strategies to address the crisis, 36.5% of respondents favored increasing access to harm reduction materials such as Narcan vending machines and Fentanyl testing strips. The second most popular choice (33.8%) was to develop or strengthen a support system in response to an overdose in the community. Other strategies mentioned included increasing the number of people educated about overdose prevention, increasing the capacity of service networks for outreach and education, supporting the emotional health of staff in the field, implementing timely substance analysis and community alert systems, and expanding publicly available data sources.

Funds that will be used for this grant program were received by Tompkins County following a settlement in 2022 between a group of state attorneys general and several large drug companies. The settlement is related to the role those drug companies played in the opioid crisis. According to the CDC, the drug overdose epidemic continues to worsen in the United States. A majority of drug overdose deaths involve opioids. Locally, overdoses and drug-related deaths have been on the rise and Tompkins County Whole Health publishes local data related to overdoses.

Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner and Co-Chair of the Task Force Frank Kruppa thanked applicants and the Task Force, “Our ability to make a difference on this issue is directly connected to the efforts of community partners and committed individuals. These investments follow a thorough process and review of many comprehensive applications. Thank you to everyone who participated throughout the process.” Kruppa continued, “Data show the increase in opioid overdoses locally, but we cannot let the trend continue. Making harm reduction tools more accessible and strengthening our local support system will go a long way, but investment alone won’t solve the problem. I encourage everyone in the community to learn more about the issue, become familiar with our local resources and identify how you can be a part of the solution.”

Legislator and Task Force Co-Chair Travis Brooks stated, “I’m so glad we had participation and so many survey responses from people with lived experience. Hearing the voices of people impacted helps us to prioritize how we address the crisis. We all know or have known someone who struggles with opioids, this is a personal issue to a lot of us, I hope that with these funds we can move the needle and help reverse the damage being done to people.” Brooks added, “There are so many great organizations stepping up to address this issue, I hope this funding can lend a hand to grow the things that are working and try out new strategies as well.”

Task Force member AJ Kircher shared, “This is big, and several months in progress. The survey had nearly 600 responses, which is an impressive number of people interested in this topic. Our committee spent a significant amount of time having critical conversations and learning about this issue – we took that information and developed the survey as well as the scoring for the applications we received.” Kircher continued, “We need to keep this issue top of mind for the community. Overdoses are increasing and this is an ongoing public health crisis. I’m glad we’re investing in some strategies to address the issues and look forward to the progress we can make through these initiatives."