Sullivan added to national study to combat opioid deaths

Posted 8/3/22

FERNDALE, NY — Scientists from the nation’s leading health agencies and four major academic institutions are partnering with communities in four states to test a set of interventions to …

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Sullivan added to national study to combat opioid deaths


FERNDALE, NY — Scientists from the nation’s leading health agencies and four major academic institutions are partnering with communities in four states to test a set of interventions to combat the opioid crisis. The ambitious HEALing Communities Study (HCS) aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent over three years in participating communities.

Sullivan County is one of those communities. Between 2020 and 2021, the country has seen an 11-percent rise, with the highest OD rates occuring from January to March.

Research grant awards were issued to the University of Kentucky in Lexington; Boston Medical Center in Boston; Columbia University in New York City; and The Ohio State University in Columbus. The study is a multiyear project under a cooperative agreement supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The study is being carried out in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, which works to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid crisis.

An introduction of the HCS was held on July 27 with nearly 70 people in attendance, both online and in person at the Cornell Cooperative Impact Library.

Stephanie Hance, program manager of the Sullivan County branch of the study, facilitated the presentation, with additional input from Melissa Stickle, Sullivan County study data coordinator; Tim Hunt, Columbia University intervention lead; Emma Rodgers, Columbia University director of community engagement; and Dawn Gruss, Columbia University director of technical assistance and training.

The study will first collect data to track what is currently being done to address the issue across the pillars of healthcare—including behavioral health, community-based settings and the criminal justice system. Additionally, it will collect data on what methods and approaches work together and have proven success in other communities in terms of prevention, overdose response, treatment—and why they work.

Following the collection of data, it will then provide community-impact dollars to supplement existing strategies with supportive evidence-based practices. These include technical assistance, data support, community trainings to carry and administer Naloxone, and medical initiations to safely prescribe buprenorphine and naltrexone, among other strategies.

Over 80 metrics will be studied as part of the process to implement and measure the study’s findings and impact, with a strong understanding of the difference of experience and needs in urban versus rural settings. This includes accessibility to drugs—17B is a main drug thoroughfare—plus accessibility to transportation (by car or reliable local transport); accessibility to harm-reduction supplies; accessibility to quality treatment, support and alternatives; cell/internet service and how information is distributed; just to name a few.

The study began in April 2019, and will conclude in the spring of 2024 after two separate intervention waves. Sullivan County is in the second wave, which began July 1 and will run 18 months through December 2023.

The county will receive the benefit of learning from the trials, changes, mistakes and overall experiences of the first wave, in order to implement successful findings faster.

That being said, Sullivan County has entered Phase 1: Getting Started. The county needs to build its community advisory board and recruit a coalition of local people to be “community champions.” Residents who are passionate about helping make positive, sustainable changes to the health of the county are being sought. They should be interested in being leaders or active participants during this study, and in being boots-on-the-ground in order to help marginalized voices be heard in their physical, mental and emotional needs. This also includes valuable participation from family members who have been or are currently being directly affected by the opioid crisis, those who are in recovery, and those who are currently using drugs.

Phase two

The second phase includes the launch of the first of three campaigns, slated to begin on Monday, October 3, which is designed to increase the knowledge of fentanyl-laced drugs and their fatal effects, as well as increase the knowledge of, demand for and usage of naloxone, which has been reported to have saved almost 100 lives in Sullivan County this year.

Martin Colavito stressed the importance of a cross-county connection in this effort in order to elevate the voices of those suffering and in need. Others agreed that in order to create lasting change, the people who need to be worked with are those who have historically not been heard.

He advocated that at the root of change is the need to remove the stigma around opioid addiction. Communities, as a whole, need to explore how to work quickly to start new opioid overdose programs. At the root of the study is to uncover how much these efforts cost. And the point of that analysis is to create a roadmap to help other local, state and national decision-makers make the best decisions and spend resources in the best way.

At the heart of the change is education and access to local organizations that provide helpful, life-saving services.

To follow the study, for more information or to join the cause, visit

Sullivan County, Cornell Cooperative Impact Library, opioid crisis, Healing Communities Study


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