Programs target opioid addiction in local area

Medication and therapy can treat opioid use disorder, but group sets stringent qualifications for the program. Thrive and a coalition of organizations are taking additional steps to address the issue.



November 20, 2020 - 3:09 PM

Robin Griffith watched a friend struggle with opioid misuse.

Prescribed opioids for pain, her friend became addicted. Only after receiving treatment did she become substance-free, and then for only a few years. 

“It was a very long process,” Griffith said. “It was expensive. It was a lot of work and required a lot of accountability.”

A series of traumatic events, including the death of a loved one, caused the woman to repeat the pattern.

“When you talk to people and hear those kinds of stories, you realize how prevalent this is in our communities,” Griffith, who is the rural health coordinator for Thrive Allen County, said. 

Though her friend doesn’t live in this area, her story is familiar. 

THRIVE and other local organizations are tackling the problem as part of the Southeast Kansas Substance Misuse Prevention Coalition, which includes Allen, Bourbon, Coffey, Neosho, Woodson and Wilson counties. Members represent mental and physical health organizations, schools, court and police systems, extension districts and more. 

Between August and October, Thrive hosted a series of online seminars addressing issues related to substance abuse, including its damaging stigma. About 60 people attended the first program.

The Midwest saw opioid overdoses increase 70% from July 2016 to September 2017, according to Thrive’s statistics. 

DR. DAWNY Barnhart, a psychiatrist with Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, leads a program to treat opioid use disorders. With a team of four, Barnhart works with patients to treat the physical and mental health aspects. 

That includes prescribing suboxone, a medication that treats dependence on opioids. It comes on a dissolvable strip that patients put in their cheek, and will last someone through the day.

“It’s a huge game changer,” Barnhart said.

Prior to suboxone, methadone clinics were the most effective ways to treat someone with an opioid abuse disorder. But methadone is highly regulated, and clinics typically are found only in larger cities. Suboxone makes treatment more readily available for those in smaller communities and rural areas.

“It’s very painful to come off opioids. And it’s scary,” Barnhart said. “All their old aches and pains come back. It’s physically difficult. Withdrawal is a terrible experience.”

BARNHART and her team also work with the 31st Judicial District’s Drug Court. The program allows some criminal offenders to seek treatment for substance abuse rather than serve time in jail. Judge Dan Creitz, who oversees Drug Court, sends referrals to Barnhart’s team. They’ll evaluate potential candidates and work with Creitz and the court system.