WEST PALM BEACH — Thanks to a recent $1 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, the Hanley Foundation is facilitating a consortium of community leaders to examine the impact of the opioid crisis in rural Florida. The Hendry, Okeechobee and Glades Opioid Consortium (HOGOC) will use those funds over the next three years to address the prevention, treatment and recovery needs of residents of those counties.
The HOGOC is comprised of community leaders from law enforcement, county governments, education, health care, faith-based organizations and other providers. Participation is free and open to all who reside in or work with the residents of Hendry, Okeechobee and Glades counties. According to the grant guidelines, HRSA has charged the group with developing and implementing solutions grounded in evidence-based or promising practice models that can be tailored to each community’s unique needs.
“Our foundation serves more than 20 counties across Florida and is the largest provider of prevention services in the state,” said Ryan Wertepny, chief program officer for Hanley Foundation. “Our role as a connector in this new programming is truly an honor and more critical now than ever. With all that 2020 has brought upon families, we hope the community will join us in our fight against the devastating rise of opioid overdoses — even more of an issue now in the wake of the pandemic.”
Over the next three years, HOGOC will focus on providing overdose prevention and education; developing a resource directory for services; utilizing peer support specialists in safety and prevention training; increasing naloxone distribution; expanding service access via telehealth and establishing recovery clubhouses for support.
To date, HOGOC partners include Beyond Barriers Inc.; City of Okeechobee; Everglades AHEC Inc.; Hanley Foundation, Health Planning Council of Southwest Florida; Hendry County Sheriff’s Office; Lake Okeechobee Rural Health Network; New Horizons of the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee; 19th Circuit Court; Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office; Okeechobee Substance Abuse; Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network; Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council; and United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee.
“HOGOC has already strengthened the organizational partnerships between Hendry, Okeechobee and Glades counties,” said Sheriff Noel Stephen, Okeechobee County sheriff. “Through this project, we are able to provide overdose prevention education and lifesaving medication to those at highest risk of overdose. The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work closely with our consortium partners to increase substance use disorder and opioid use disorder programs and services in our community.”
According to a study performed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), every $1 spent on treatment saves society between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs and theft. Additionally, $1 of treatment can create $12 in savings when factoring in reduced strain on the health care system.
“Surely an ounce of prevention is worth more than the life and death struggle of someone suffering from a substance use disorder,” said John Makris, a Hanley Foundation board member who lost his son to an opioid overdose. “When we change the conversation from stigma to empathy, we save lives. Let’s stop substance use disorder before it hits.”
The next meeting of HOGOC is scheduled for Dec. 9, via Zoom. To participate or learn more, please reach Ryan Wertepny at 561-268-2351 or Ryan@HanleyFoundation.org. For general inquiries about Hanley Foundation, visit www.HanleyFoundation.org.