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Skagit County hosts USDA, stakeholders for opioid discussion

December 5, 2018

MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County played host Tuesday to government and nonprofit staff to talk about collaboration in the face of the opioid epidemic.

Organized by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the roundtable discussion brought in state, federal and local representatives to brainstorm projects the department may fund in the future.

“We can’t build strong prosperous communities without addressing this crisis,” said Peter McMillin, community programs director with USDA Rural Development. ”

Members of the group, which is called the Rural Action Plan Tackling Opioid Recovery — or RAPTOR — were assigned to four groups and told to volunteer their time over the next few months to collaborate with group members on solutions.

Kathy Lofy, state health officer for the state Department of Health, opened the meeting by telling those in attendance that overdose fatality rates are higher in rural counties, which on average are less wealthy, have more unemployment and have poorer health services than urban areas.

“A lot of this problem ... is being drive by social and economic factors,” she said.

Among those in attendance was Josh Martin, CEO of Summit Pacific Medical Center in Grays Harbor County, who spoke about the organization’s new wellness center that is scheduled to open early next year.

“It’s not just a place to come when you’re sick,” he said. “It’s a place to come and be well.”

The wellness center, which he said will serve as a centralized location for things such as primary care, social services and wellness education, received $26 million in USDA Rural Development loans.

“They feel like this is the delivery model for the future of rural America,” Martin said.

After discussion, the group weighed in on which ideas it felt were most important. The need for having centralized services in rural regions was deemed most important, with the need for recovery housing also getting widespread support.

“We see one of the biggest needs being housing, recovery housing,” said Skagit County Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “If people don’t have a home, they won’t reach recovery.”

Those who undergo treatment for opioid addiction are more likely to relapse if they don’t have a stable home after treatment, she said.

McMillin said he expects members of the different subgroups to collaborate in the coming months and brainstorm ideas to pitch to USDA Rural Development. He said the department can’t guarantee funding for projects that come out of this process.

“It’s a start,” he said. “It leads us to a possibility to find solutions.”

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