Task Force Seeks to Reduce Opioid Deaths in Bexar County

Task Force Seeks to Reduce Opioid Deaths in Bexar County

By | Rivard Report

For the first time, deaths linked to opioids have surpassed gun homicides, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To address this public health emergency in Bexar County, organizations have joined together to launch a Joint Opioid Task Force to find solutions to this complex problem.

The inaugural meeting will take place Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the University Health System’s Robert B. Greene Pavilion, with the mission of decreasing opioid overdose deaths in Bexar County.

“This is a growing crisis in cities across the country,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the Rivard Report in a phone interview Thursday. “[Opioids] kill more Americans than car accidents. [The] issue has reached crisis levels and we want to stay ahead of it and address it before it gets to that point.”

Opioids are a family of drugs including prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, as well as illicit drugs like heroin. Often people resort to heroin after becoming addicted to opioids because it is more affordable.

In a letter to the Opioid Task Force, Nirenberg, along with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, cited data indicating that Bexar County leads the state in infant opioid withdrawal and has the third highest per capita rate of overdose deaths in Texas. County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to form the opioid task force in June.

The task force brings together public health experts, medical and pharmaceutical professionals, first responders, policymakers, public school district representatives, and social services agencies to collaborate in creating effective strategies to address goals.

“[We are] trying not to make it like a typical task force where you just meet and talk,” Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metro Health Department and task force co-chair, told the Rivard Report. Instead, the opioid task force has outlined five measurable goals for its subcommittees to address, with progress to be reported on at the end of the year.

The task force seeks to increase the use of naloxone and several other overdose drugs by first responders, and will work to determine which other organizations might benefit from learning how to administer the drug on-site without a medical professional present. Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids, reverses an overdose, and gives the addicted individual the opportunity to participate in clear decision-making.

The percentage of deaths from heroin overdose in the U.S. has tripled since 2010, according to the CDC; further reports indicate that more widespread access to naloxone could help prevent the rise of opioid-related deaths.

Texas is one of 33 states that allows people to buy naloxone over the counter without a prescription. Researchers found that the adoption of a naloxone access law was associated with a 9% decrease in opioid deaths in those states.

The task force is seeking to increase the use of the Physician Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), a state-run electronic database used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients in an effort to monitor suspected abuse or misuse. This information can help prescribers and pharmacists identify patients at high risk who would benefit from early interventions.

Bridger told the Rivard Report that because the tracking system is voluntary for the prescriber, there has been low utilization. The task force will look into determining how to get more providers to use the system.

“If enough people [use the system] we can understand if a drug-seeking patient is going to physician after physician,” and the patient can then be flagged for drug abuse education and treatment, Bridger said.

In addition to increased education for those using opioids, the task force will focus on increased provider training on evidence-based practices regarding the prescribing and dispensing of opiate-related pharmaceutical products.

Regarding the reeducation of medical professionals, Bridger points to research indicating that opioids are not the best treatment for someone with long-term, chronic pain, which is what opioids are often prescribed for. There is plenty of evidence that prolonged use can result in complications, including a higher risk of addiction, overdose, and death.

“There are physicians who have been trained that opioids are the treatment of choice because there is little risk and high reward,” Bridger said. “We now know better. We have to retrain people to make sure that they are getting the appropriate information.”

Bridger went further to say that education includes working with providers to understand that opioids are a short-term solution, so prescribing a 30-day dosage is excessive and potentially dangerous for the patient.

University Health System, San Antonio Metro Health, the Bexar County Medical Society, Alpha Home, The Center for Health Care Services, UT Health San Antonio, and the Bexar County Health Collaborative are some of the participating organizations who may be working to ensure that the appropriate information regarding opioids is getting to both medical providers and the general public.

The task force will also work to provide community education on the safe storage and disposal of prescribed opioids, which Bridger explained includes making sure adults keep medication out of the reach of others, especially curious teens.

“Most folks know that its bad to dump [medication] down the toilet, but they don’t know what to do with it,” Bridger said. “They end up keeping it in the medicine cabinet and that leads to others using it.”

The task force will be looking into drug drop boxes as a means to provide a safe space for people to properly dispose of drugs so that they don’t end up in a public landfill, being abused, or enter into the water supply. Bridger told the Rivard Report that in addition to education efforts, improving data collection measures and accuracy in death reports coming from medical examiner offices will be crucial.

The Department of Health and Human Services also granted millions of dollars to fight opioid abuse in May. It is spending $480 million nationwide, including more than $27 million in Texas alone.

The task force also plans to look into increased availability of treatment options for opioid addiction, despite not having the funding to make that happen this fiscal year. But Bridger is optimistic about what the task force can achieve, stating that if it accomplishes its goals it may receive funding to continue its efforts.

Nirenberg told the Rivard Report that Bexar County doesn’t need more evidence by way of lives lost to understand that opioids are a growing concern in the community. “It has been in the Top 5 municipal concerns on the agenda for the last few years. We are actively studying and addressing the issue, and it has become the No. 1 concern.”

 

Alpha Home partners with artist Branislav Jankic to screen “Letter To My Mother,” a short film and art exhibition

Alpha Home partners with artist Branislav Jankic to screen “Letter To My Mother,” a short film and art exhibition that reveals an impactful look into the lives of mothers suffering from addiction

The project strives to lift addiction stigma and offer hope to those struggling with this disease

(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) – July 25, 2017 –Alpha Home – a local addiction treatment center – is pleased to partner with artist Branislav Jankic to present Letter to My Mother, a short film and art exhibition about mothers struggling with addiction. The project features many Alpha Home staff and Alumnae. The exhibition has previously only been shown in New York.

The one-night only event will take place on Thursday, August 17, 2017, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa. The film will be screened at 7 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at www.alphahome.org

Artist Branislav Jankic in front of the art exhibition view of “Letter To My Mother” at Spring Studio Gallery, New York, June 2016. Photo courtesy: Branislav Jankic

Letter to My Mother is a visual and literary body of work created by artist Branislav Jankic that reveals an impactful look into the lives of mothers suffering from addiction in the United States. The project strives to lift the stigma of addiction and create an international support system for those suffering from this disease, particularly mothers. The short film was shot during the first exhibition of the project in New York, June 2016.

The book came to fruition after Jankic learned of his mother’s painful diagnosis – terminal lung cancer – in November 2012. Jankic, who had experienced his own struggles with addiction throughout his teenage years, began a quest to reassess his relationship with his mother.

He began the process by starting a letter to his mother, reconciling with her and her life-long challenges, specifically the abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol. This act became the catalyst that set Jankic off on a journey to bring a narrative, not frequently told, to the forefront – to pro- duce a dialogue about motherhood and addiction outside of its stereotypically taboo associations.

In August of 2013, Jankic and the project’s Producer Goran Macura, set off on their quest, traveling the United States for 11 days, (1,200 miles by ground and 7,518 by air); visiting 6 states, including San Antonio, Texas, and photographing 40 women and their children.

The book chronicles the stories of mothers and their families as they openly tell their stories about addiction, abuse, shame, strength, and gratitude in a single letter accompanied by an intimate portrait. The large-format medium, which harkens back to classical portraiture and is ac- companied by a tedious and time consuming process, was chosen by Jankic to highlight the strength, endurance, and confidence of these women in recovery. Their restrained movement during the shoot allowed the subjects to speak only with their eyes creating beautiful, honest, and haunting portraits.

“My mother, all of these women, all of their children – they are beautiful. There is not one face of addiction. The women I chose are not defined by their disease, but by their motherhood. It can affect anyone, addiction doesn’t discriminate,” says Jankic “It was important for me to make that point – to show these women’s faces with the ultimate goal to make the conversation around addiction an open one, it doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be hidden by shame.” – Branislav Jankic

In honor of these women, Jankic translated Letter to My Mother into an immersive multimedia art exhibition that also bears the same name as the book for four days in June 2016 in New York City. The short film was shot during this period while the exhibition was installed. The display, like the book, included 12 portraits of women whose stories were especially powerful for Jankic as well as a series of written and recorded letters, a celebration of the subject’s bravery. The number 12 was chosen consciously in order to reference several contradicting yet relevant existing connotations of the number: the 12 Olympians, the 12 pillars of success, 12 step addiction programs, and 12 as a religiously charged historical recurrence.

Each of these manifestations carry positive weight: hope, faith, strength, community; but they also hold negative associations: loneliness, shame, violence, vulnerability. Jankic invites the viewer to contemplate both ends of this spectrum, as emotions and perspectives have changed throughout the addicts’ personal journeys and amongst societal perceptions. In order for a new dialogue around addiction to commence, dichotomies such as these, especially in relation to motherhood, must be acknowledged.

Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased here: www.alphahome.org

Letter to My Mother film trailer can be viewed here: http://lettertomymother.us/trailer/

Letter to My Mother website for more information about the project : http://lettertomymother.us

About Alpha Home:

Since its beginning in 1966, Alpha Home has served over 23,000 women in San Antonio and the surrounding counties. The mission of Alpha Home is to offer a pathway of hope, healing and recovery through spiritually based drug and alcohol services and support.

About Branislav Jankic:

Branislav Jankic (b.1983) is a Serbian artist, director, and photographer based in New York City. His work has appeared in Interview (RU, DE), GQ (UK), Vogue Homme (Japan), Elle, and Flaunt. Under the tutelage of Gian Paolo Barbieri and Bruce Weber, Jankic draws deeply from his own past as a child of displacement, of addiction, and of rebirth. His first major book of photography, Letter to My Mother (2015) was inspired by his mother’s battle with cancer and addiction. His latest collaboration, Flowers of My Life (2015), a collaboration with Gian Paolo Barbieri, debuted at Milan Fashion Week and has been praised in Vanity Fair (IT), I.D., Women’s Wear Daily, and Love Magazine (UK).

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Beauty and the Big Give Video

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“A van can be such a blessing; it will help us on the pathway to recovery… Big Give, Give Today, How Do I Do it? Big Give, Online, Please Help, We Need A Van!”

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Thank you, Alpha Home volunteers!

Meet some of the volunteers that give time to help Alpha Home! Last year, a total of 7,810 volunteer hours were logged at Alpha Home. Thank you to these individuals and groups that truly make a difference in the lives of our clients and our community.

Together, we are committed to offer a pathway of help, hope, and healing through spiritually based drug and alcohol treatment and support.

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month!

Thank you, Alpha Home volunteers! from Alpha Home on Vimeo.