MIRIAM ORDONEZ Cronkite News
PHOENIX — Amid two intersecting crises in America — an opioid epidemic and poor mental health emergency call handling — the federal government has awarded $5.6 million to better train rural emergency medical workers .
Money from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will target rural communities, which have the fewest resources to deal with tricky and complicated emergency calls. The agency, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, runs behavioral health programs.
The grant aims to reduce the impact of addiction and mental illness on American communities by providing better emergency response.
“What emergency medical services provide is an opportunity for patients to not only get lifesaving treatment, but for providers to get trained so they can provide care in a more culturally sensitive and more effective,” said Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, Chief Medical Officer. for addiction and mental health services.
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Thirty-two organizations, including the Coast Life Support District of Gualala, a rural community of 2,000 on California’s northern coast, will receive grants ranging from $1,650 to $200,000.
Arizona was not among the recipients because the state’s cooperative extension – which partners with the US Department of Agriculture to “improve nutrition and food security, prepare for and respond to emergencies, and protect our environment ” – did not apply for funding.
Gandotra said rural communities are disadvantaged because there are fewer healthcare providers per geographic area and mental treatment services tend to be fewer. In many high profile cases, the first response to mental health and drug overdoses ends in tragedy due to a lack of training or understanding of what is going on.
Among other types of emergency response, the grant requires EMS personnel to be trained in “the use of the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone, for use in an opioid overdose emergency. “.
Other training includes harm reduction.
“Harm reduction with respect to the distribution and administration of naloxone or Narcan for people who have overdosed,” Gandotra said.
The problem is particularly acute among young people. In 2018, according to the agency, 8.9 million young adults reported having a mental illness and 42% were untreated. In addition, according to the report, approximately 5.1 million young adults suffer from drug addiction and 87% are untreated.
Communities of color have also been hit hard. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “about 34% of Hispanic/Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, compared to the US average of 45%.
Stigma is a factor preventing Hispanics from receiving treatment, experts have said.
“The sometimes associated stigma and shame that people associate with their use prevents them from seeking help,” Gandotra said. “There is an internal stigma that mental illness or addiction is unfortunately still seen in some communities as a failure.”
People can help by identifying the behavior of a loved one and asking that person in a way that doesn’t judge or jump to conclusions.
Gandotra said that it is easier to rule out certain abnormalities in a person: “This person was on time and now they are late. The person used to be more energetic and now they stay in their room. The person used to participate in social activities and now they are more isolated.
But these behaviors can be seen as symptoms of a problem, he said.