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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: Out of Hell, Into the LOOP

by Susan Hellauer

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.
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In a press release dated October 2, the office of Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-17) announced the award of a federal Department of Justice grant to Orangetown aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic:

The Town of Orangetown has been awarded a $300,338 federal Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-based Program grant, which aims to reduce opioid abuse and overdose fatalities and to mitigate the impacts on crime victims.  . . .

The Orangetown Police Department will use this federal funding to implement the Law-Enforcement Opiate Overdose Prevention (LOOP) Initiative. Any resident who encounters the police and requests help will immediately be screened into the LOOP Initiative and referred to treatment.

There’s barely a family in Rockland County that hasn’t been touched sometime, somehow by substance abuse, and mine is no exception. Could an addict’s every encounter with law enforcement, EMS, hospitals, or courts really come with a one-on-one offer of recovery and hope? When will we see this new anti-opioid “LOOP” initiative in action, and how will it work?

opioid epidemic

Three waves in the rise in opioid overdose deaths. Image: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

Out of hell and into the LOOP

The LOOP grant was sought after by and will be administered by Wellcore, an Orangetown company that creates and finds funding for all sorts of educational and anti-substance abuse partnerships.

LOOP is the brainchild of Wellcore’s founder and executive director Victoria Shaw. With a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, Shaw is a certified health educator and school district administrator. She worked as a drug and alcohol therapist and behavioral counselor before founding Wellcore 14 years ago. “Wellcore gets grants for a variety of projects,” Shaw told Earth Matters. “But I’m passionate about drug and alcohol abuse prevention and treatment, all the way.”

The LOOP initiative is a system to intercept addicts and route them to treatment before their feet can touch the ground. “We are going to team up with the police department, the ambulance corps—all the first responders in the community,” said Shaw. “Any time an individual has overdosed, is given Narcan, or is arrested for opiates, and say that they want help, we immediately go to them where they are. We don’t want to incarcerate them. We want to say ‘Hey, Hey! You need help and we’ll get it for your right now.’”

Help prevent drug abuse by securing opioid pain medications at home, and properly disposing of unneeded pills at a secure receptacle or at your local police department, and never down the drain. Image courtesy Orangetown PD

This $300,000-plus grant will have an immediate and powerful impact in the fight against the opioid epidemic here in Orangetown. The efforts of Orangetown-based Wellcore and our police department in securing this grant were key and will continue to be extremely important in implementing it going forward. Having this financial support from the federal government will empower our local government to save lives and reduce the impact of drugs in our community.

                                                                         Chris Day, Orangetown Supervisor

It’s about getting people into treatment

The grant, to be administered with Orangetown PD, will pay for a program coordinator and three recovery coaches. When first responders encounter an addict who wants help, the coordinator will be called and a recovery coach will respond immediately. “We use that window of opportunity to talk them into getting into treatment, and then we orchestrate the treatment,” said Shaw.  The funding will also cover Narcan training in the community and education about the opioid and heroin epidemic. There will be town hall meetings, newsletters, and public service announcements. It will not cover the costs of treatment itself.

But anyone who has helped a loved one find substance abuse treatment knows how difficult it can be to find an open bed, and to get medical insurance to pay for it. Indeed, active addicts often have no insurance or means to pay for treatment. “Yes, that’s the tricky part,” Shaw admitted. “We have a list of places—a ‘black book’ of options based on someone’s insurance—or lack of it,” she said. “Look, we’ll definitely get some people into treatment. If we didn’t have this grant, we’d be getting nobody into treatment.”

Warp speed to recovery

Since the funding was announced, Wellcore has been moving at warp speed to implement the LOOP program. The grant has been accepted and the paperwork has been filled out, according to Shaw. The coordinator and three of the four recovery coaches have already been selected, too. “Now we’re setting up meetings with Orangetown PD and pulling in all of our partners—all the first responders,” said Shaw, who expects to be up and running in early November. “We’ll say ‘Okay, let’s go!’ and wait for our first case.” That first case could be the next person treated with Narcan or even someone arrested for possession. “If they say, ‘Hey, I want help,’ the coordinator will get a call and we’ll be rolling.”

opioid abuse

All Orangetown police officers are trained to administer the opioid reversal medication Narcan. They also teach DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in South Orangetown and Pearl River Middle Schools. and at St. Margaret School, with officers Elizabeth Muckell and Michael Taylor, pictured here. Photo courtesy Orangetown Police Department via Facebook

The Orangetown Police Department is eager to be a part of this new initiative that will attempt to intervene and move individuals toward treatment and behavior that will ultimately alleviate the destructive actions caused by chemical dependency.

Capt. Donald Butterworth, Orangetown Police Department; member of the Orangetown Substance Abuse Committee.

But do people suffering from substance abuse disorder have to wait for an encounter with law enforcement or EMS? Is there any other way to take advantage of the LOOP program’s path to treatment?

“Absolutely yes,” said Shaw. “You can put my cell phone number right into this article: 845-304-4371. Anyone can reach out to me any time. I will help anyone get into recovery. I’m good at it.”

Learn more:

Victoria Shaw

Wellcore executive director Victoria Shaw. Photo courtesy Wellcore.

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Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique, Dying to Bloom, and Strawtown Studio.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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