The Opioid Prevention and Community Health Initiative (OPACH)

  • Within the last five years, the rates of drug overdose in southwestern Pennsylvania have skyrocketed, with Indiana, Armstrong, and Cambria counties having three of the four highest rates of deaths in the state. While reports have shown that narcotic and alcohol use has increased in public schools in Pennsylvania, the new epidemic is not purely a young people’s problem. Drug overdose, most commonly caused by opiate substances, is currently the leading cause of death of people under the age of 50 in the United States. In Indiana County, Pennsylvania alone, the number of overdose deaths has increased 464% between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. With southwestern Pennsylvania currently lacking the resources and knowledge to take on such an alarming issue, new resources must be developed quickly.

    Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership at the Mid-Atlantic Research and Training Institute for Community and Behavioral Health, has begun a new initiative entitled the Opioid Prevention and Community Health program. Intent on developing new tools to combat the current crisis, a community-based approach is being taken to engage locals in the health of their own people. The driving idea behind the initiative lies in the prevention of drug use. Prevention reduces the demand for drugs in the first place, which will ultimately ward off hundreds, if not thousands of potential overdoses and subsequent deaths.

    The OPACH initiative has several objectives that focus on reaching out the affected communities. Firstly, a goal is to reduce the stigma regarding substance abuse to encourage users and their families to seek support. If those suffering from an addiction feel as though they will not be judged upon reaching out for assistance, they are more likely to successfully seek and receive proper treatment. A second objective lies in conducting a new public outreach campaign to alert the region to the severity of the current drug crisis, as well as educate citizens of the area about the causes and solutions to substance abuse. Third, the current treatments, interdiction, and recovery efforts are going to be greatly improved upon. Fourth, new talents, time, and resources will be recruited and coordinated to aid in the battle against the epidemic. Lastly, the information gained and programs developed will be shared with all of Appalachia, as well as other regions of the country.

    With the mentioned objectives in mind, OPACH has the potential to drastically better the lives of thousands of Americans. In time, the OPACH initiative formatting is hoped to be mimicked on rural college and university campuses across the country. With expert-level research and evaluation skills, communities throughout the targeted region, as well as in other areas of the U.S., will be able to streamline the best possible prevention practices. With a wide set of skills, tested resources, messaging materials, and a manual of best-practices available, neighborhoods throughout the country have the potential to be changed for the better, and the drug crisis could significantly be mitigated.