EAST GREENWICH--The East Greenwich drug program is to receive coveted state funds designed to help the town better fight against the national opioid epidemic and to further integrate existing services within the town.

Drug program director Bob Houghtaling spoke to the importance of the funding for the future of the town and ensuring that residents have the best care and support available.

“Nationally we’re in the middle of an opioid crisis and the state had set aside some money to try to address that” Houghtaling said. “We were one of the applications in a competitive bidding process for which we wrote a proposal and submitted it for grant funding. It places tremendous emphasis on early intervention and education of young people”

The grant, written with community services head Cathy Bradley, was awarded as part of a larger series of funds given to organizations across Kent County by the state and will help the town offer educational opportunities and promote early intervention with substance abuse and mental health issues.

“We’re trying to stop bad things before they even happen,” Houghtaling said. “We are combining some of the efforts of the existing youth ASAPP program with the efforts of the interfaith counseling center and working on providing leadership training through the recreation department. One of our forums is set to address the stigma of mental health and substance abuse.”

Catching potential issues concerning mental health and substance abuse before they become serious problems is a major concern of the program, and Houghtaling hopes that it will help to ensure many of the town’s residents never have to find themselves in a hospital or rehabilitation clinic.

“The state has recognized the need to address these problems before they really begin,” Houghtaling said. “The immediacy of Narcan and other treatments for overdose is necessary, but somewhere along the line it is imperative to go back to the source. Especially so, now that our community is seeing opioid deaths have been mostly with people in the mid-twenties to early thirties”

“Another emphasis is addressing the 18-22 year olds, who are really in a gap between existing services. If we can keep those efforts with the kids and stretch out to people in their twenties, we hope it will curtail a lot of problems with opioids We’re really looking to intervene at the earliest possible levels and network with the town services department, schools, parent groups and the recreation department”

The plan is modeled after a proposed course of action that Houghtlaing has been working on for a number of years now, called integrated social capacity. In essence, he hope to integrate the disparate efforts of so many of the town’s public services to act in a more holistic, systemic manner, and provide a broad coverage and basis for prevention.

“It integrates mental health and substance abuse services and places emphasis on intervening at the earliest possible level,” Houghtaling said. “This is a model that is going to tie in a number of services we already have with things that we have always wanted to do.”

To that end, Houghtaling stressed the already essential role of community networking and involvement in making the obtaining of the grant possible, and highlighted the integral roles that local service workers and professionals such as Cathy Bradley, Christine King and the leadership of the interfaith community center have played in making it all possible.

With effort, luck and a little bit of state funding, East Greenwich may soon become an archetype for substance abuse prevention and mental health care that other towns can look to for guidance and inspiration.

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