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Columbia County panel addresses drug addiction program

September 13, 2018
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In October 2016, Columbia County Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard, left, and Stacy Davenport, the county's Medication Assisted Recovery Program coordinator, share their accounts of success and struggle in dealing with the challenge of opium-based drugs in Columbia County, at a forum in Arlington led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.

A “hybrid” program – a combination of in-house and contracted services – soon will be available to Columbia County residents struggling with drug addiction.

The county’s Health and Human Services Board approved an array of proposals Wednesday designed to ensure continuation of the 3-year-old Medication Assisted Recovery Program.

Board Member Tom Drury said the need for the program remains urgent, especially in light of four recent suspected drug-related deaths in Columbia County, over a six-day period.

“The crisis this county continues to face isn’t getting any better,” Drury said.

The measures, recommended by Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard, included the following:

Combine the jobs of crisis coordinator (currently vacant) and Medication Assisted Recovery Program coordinator into one job, to oversee addressing of multiple types of crises, including those related to addiction.Convert the post of Medication Assisted Recovery Program coordinator into a social worker post, and fill it with someone whose responsibilities would include services for people with addiction.Revise the department’s existing contracts with two agencies to access the services of those agencies’ social workers in addressing issues related to addiction to opioids and other drugs.

By taking these steps, the department can utilize a one-year $350,000 state grant to help pay people – regardless of whether they’re county employees or employed by contracted agencies – to provide a variety of services for people struggling with addiction, including medication designed to curb the craving for drugs, and help with issues stemming from addictions such as employment, transportation, housing or family relationships.

There currently are about 50 clients in the program.

Woodard said these measures were taken in response to direction from several County Board committees, to find entities willing to contract for the Medication Assisted Recovery Program rather than providing the program in-house.

Most recently, the County Board’s Human Resources Committee rejected Woodard’s proposal to use the grant money to hire three full-time social workers as limited-term employees, to operate the program entirely in-house.

Woodard said she understands concerns from the committee about taking on new county employees when they can’t be guaranteed they’d still have a job if the grant money should dry up.

But because the measures approved Wednesday involve tweaks in existing contracts – something that the Health and Human Services Board does often – Woodard said the measures would not need to be approved as part of the county’s 2019 budget process, nor would the full County Board need to sign off on them.

Also, she noted, the measures don’t entail adding any new Columbia County employees.

The person who would hold the newly-combined post, called Crisis and Alcohol and Other Drugs Coordinator, is the current Medication Assistant Treatment Program coordinator, Stacy Davenport.

Under the job description for the new post, which the Health and Human Services Board also approved Wednesday, Davenport would oversee a variety of crisis-related services – many of which people in the Medication Assisted Treatment Program eventually will need at some point in their recovery journey.

Madison Trauma Therapy and Lutheran Social Services have tentatively agreed to make their social workers available to Columbia County for addiction-related case management.

Supervisor Keith Miller of Fall River, a member of the board, asked whether the Department of Health and Human Services invests any resources into preventing crises, not just responding to crises as they occur.

Woodard replied that the department offers many education and prevention programs, some of them in cooperation with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Also, Woodard said, the department is pursuing grants to expand addiction-related services, including a grant which, if approved, would pay for a fatality review panel to investigate drug-related deaths, and another grant that would allow Columbia County Jail inmates to receive anti-addiction medication such as Vivitrol in the jail, five days before their scheduled release date.

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