Joining Community Partners to Tackle Opioid Epidemic

Date: 03/15/2022

Northern Light Health joins community partners to tackle opioid epidemic

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Jean Antonucci, MD Northern Light Primary Care, Pittsfield

At the start of the 2021 school year, new faculty and staff at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport learned to administer the life-saving anti-overdose medication Narcan as part of their first aid and CPR training.  On a sunny Saturday in October, the Pittsfield Police department held a drug takeback event as part of National Prescription Drug Takeback day. And in February, Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield welcomed Jean Antonucci, MD, to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to people with opioid use disorder.    

These efforts to address the opioid epidemic are examples of the work underway by a group of community partners in the Sebasticook Valley region. The group, called the Sebasticook Valley Opioid Response Network (SVORN), held its first meeting in October 2020 and has been meeting monthly since. The group includes the Pittsfield Police Department, Regional School Unit (RSU) 19 (Newport, Hartland, St. Albans, Palmyra), Hometown Health Center, Kennebec Behavioral Health, TeamHealth, Northern Light Acadia Hospital, Northern Light Health, and Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital.  

Dr. Antonucci, who now sees patients at Northern Light Primary Care in Pittsfield, says the community partnerships are vital because opioid use disorder is a community problem. “Drugs and alcohol, child abuse, and poverty are everywhere in the state, and loss of family structure is everywhere,” she says, adding that a lot of her patients started drinking and using drugs when they were in middle school.

One of the SVORN priorities was to provide Narcan training to school staff and first responders, including Pittsfield police officers. “We’re seeing our share of people who are dependent on opioids and other drugs, and we’ve had our fair share of incidents,” shares Harold Bickmore, Pittsfield Police chief, noting that officers used Narcan kits several times in the past year. Chief Bickmore attends the monthly SVORN meetings and provides updates to the group on overdoses in the community, which the police department  now tracks using specialized mapping software. He is appreciative of the collaboration. “I think it’s the way to go. It’s like working on a task force. It’s a force multiplier when you work together as a team,” he says. 

SVORN is funded by a one-million-dollar federal grant provided through the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program. The program is a three-year initiative supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“People in rural communities suffering from the opioid epidemic are facing challenges accessing needed services, especially during the pandemic,” says Terri Vieira, MHA, FACHE, president of Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital. “This grant will allow us to strengthen partnerships, develop sustainable plans, and expand services to  help more people.”

The goals for the SVORN include improving the regional coordination and communication response for opioid use disorder, increasing community awareness, improving local access to treatment services, and improving clinical support for treatment and recovery.