Hours before President Donald Trump officially declared a national public health emergency over the opioid crisis, local leaders and interested parties gathered to ramp up the fight in Manatee County.
In the current state budget, Manatee County was allocated $500,000 to fund its Opioid-focused Recovery Peer Coach Pilot Program. Now, they’re seeking proposals to get things started.
The opioid crisis has affected Manatee County for the past several years since pill mills were shut down, and in 2015 Manatee had the highest deaths per capita in the state related to fentanyl, cocaine, morphine and heroin.
The number of overdoses and related deaths in Manatee has decreased since then, Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells recently said, but the battle isn’t over.
“What we’ve noticed is a great portion of folks who have experienced an opioid overdose or an opioid overdose death is that they’re between the ages of 25 and 45,” said Joshua Barnett, the county’s healthcare services manager in the neighborhood services department. “The average age of risk is around 32.”
During an informational session Thursday, Barnett and Chris Daley with the county’s purchasing department described to about a dozen people how the county will dissect the proposals, with most of the emphasis on capacity and sustainability.
The program is still in its planning stages and is seeking out an agency that can hire peer coaches to reach out to residents in need. The whole ideology behind having peer coaches is that they have “lived experience,” meaning that they have used opioids in the past, have been in recovery and have lived a clean lifestyle since.
Peer coaches need to be pretty flexible with their hours. Barnett explained that the highest risk of overdose was between the hours of 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays were also common times for overdoses in Manatee. They also should be certified.
The state funding is meant for a one-year program, but Barnett said the successful proposals will detail how the agency plans to make the program continue. But those already working with substance abuse treatment services in Manatee County aren’t eligible.
“The idea behind the evidence of peer coach services is that they’re conflict-free,” Barnett said. “If you are an employee of a treatment provider, there’s a potential that they would become marketing agents of referring to their own services.”
Proposals will be due mid-November, and staff plan to have their final evaluation completed in December.
Barnett hopes that with this program, Manatee County will become a different kind of epicenter: “An epicenter on recovery.”