Just after the second anniversary of its launch, the Island County Opioid Outreach program boasts one of the best rates of getting people into treatment in the region.
County Human Services Director Jackie Henderson said she’d heard from the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization that Island County’s treatment numbers were outstanding in the five-county region, which includes Whatcom, San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish counties. The North Sound BHO provides funding to the program.
The program — which includes a public health nurse, sheriff’s deputies and an outreach social worker — has seen significant improvement since its March 2017 beginning.
The first year, outreach workers contacted 64 individuals and seven entered treatment, according to Henderson. In 2018, they contacted 60 unique individuals and 27 entered treatment. So far this year, 17 people have been contacted and 12 have gone into treatment.
She said there have also been a number of people who haven’t entered treatment yet but have gotten assessments, which is the first step.
The model used in the program is aimed at slowly building trust with the individuals who need help, Henderson said, and finding out what’s keeping them from getting treatment or other services.
“If they don’t want help, you try again later,” she said.
Many of the people the outreach workers interact with also have mental or physical health problems in addition to substance use disorder, Henderson said. Last year, the program’s staff made 66 referrals to other services.
When they are ready for treatment, Phillips has recently been able to get people into treatment relatively quickly, she said. The opening of an American Behavioral Health Systems office in Freeland has allowed people living there to seek outpatient treatment without having to leave the island.
“It’s been a life saver for people on the south end,” Henderson said.
Oak Harbor has a couple outpatient treatment options, and recently became home to the island’s first provider of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, outside the jail. Ideal Option uses safe medications to lessen withdrawal symptoms while people go through recovery; this is another service many people were having to travel off island to find before.
The coordination and communication between human services, public health and the sheriff’s department are what make Island County’s program so successful, Henderson said.
“Everybody’s doing their part,” she said.
“That’s why it works.”
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.