WAMHC on front line of opioid battle

Mental Health Center increases efforts to fight opioid abuse

West Alabama Mental Health Center is working to reach out to area communities in an effort to assist those who battling opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction was declared a public health emergency in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with 116 deaths each day attributed to opioids in 2016.

While most states are facing problems with opioid misuse, Alabama ranks at the top in prescription opioid use. According to the Center for Disease Control, Alabamians were written 1.2 prescriptions per person. The national average is .71. Opioids, which include prescription drugs such as oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine, accounted for 44 percent of overdose deaths in Alabama in 2016, a 13 percent increase since 2011, according to the state Center for Health Statistics.

State officials are working toward curbing the epidemic, including a special council established by Governor Kay Ivey and recently entering into a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for failing to accurately communicate the risks and benefits of opioids.

According to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, at least 30,000 Alabama residents over age 17 are dependent on heroin or prescription painkillers. The governor’s opioid council found the drug overdose death rate across the state has increased 82 percent from 2006 to 2014.

The West Alabama Mental Health Center is one organization working to combat the problem in West Alabama.

“The opioid problem is increasing and we are increasing our treatments based on those trends. We are responding with additional support and services,” said WAMHC Executive Director Patricia Moore. “Our focus on opioid has impacted our entire staff as we have responded with additional support and services as the identification of the problem as increased.”

Moore said the WAMHC has a complete “access to care” department that can be reached by calling 800-239-2901. Once information is obtained from the caller, a determination is made on which service would best fit that person.

“We take referrals from many sources. An employer may notice a problem, or a family member … sometimes its a referral from a doctor that their patient many need additional help,” Moore said.

Once identified, the WAMHC holds an intake assessment to determine the level of care a person may need.

Through its wide variety of services, the mental health center sees about 1,500 people per month across all of its programs.

“Whatever the need is, we can direct a person to the services we provide or assist them with finding treatments and services provided by others,” Moore said.

One of the ways the WAMHC is combating the opioid crisis is increasing its staff to include a master’s degree level substance abuse professional in each county. Those with a master’s degree in human services fields may apply for positions with the center. All open positions are available for viewing at www.wamhc.org.

The organization is also working to hold prescription drug take-back events in each of the counties it serves. A take-back event will be held in Linden on April 28 with other dates to be scheduled in Livingston and Greensboro. The events allow for people to turnover unneeded prescription medicines.

To reach the WAMHC’s toll free Access to Care Line, call 1-800-239-2901.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 7 issue of the Demopolis Times.)