The Cumberland-Fayetteville Opioid Response Team (C-FORT) emerged from a task force first organized by former Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robinson. The task force brought stakeholders together to begin to discuss strategies for tackling the local opioid epidemic. When the UNC School of Government launched the Opioid Response Project, team members were eager and excited to participate in an opportunity to continue their work and expand their impact using the Collective Impact model.
“The C-FORT team is a pretty motivated group with quite an action plan,” said Melissia Larson, C-FORT Project Manager. “The team is made up of 90-100 community leaders, 25-35 of which are actively involved, working to address needs in the community.”
Improving post-overdose response is one of the focuses of the team. It was obvious to community leaders that more needed to be done, but there was not enough staff in place to collect all of the necessary data to take action. Because of the team’s work, a pocket guide is now being released to help patients who refuse transport. The guide, distributed by first responders, contains information to help patients understand where they can access services in the community.
Community education is another important component of C-FORT’s work. Committee members implemented a survey to better understand attitudes and awareness about the opioid epidemic in Cumberland County. The survey will gauge the community’s understanding of the availability and purpose of Naloxone, the medication used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. The team will wrap up survey collection in January 2020, and results will inform the content and strategies behind an upcoming community education campaign.
“The roadblock initially keeping us back from collecting information and launching projects was funding,” said Larson. “We had an action plan and strategies that were great, but we needed the money.” C-FORT developed their action plan as part of the Opioid Response Project with support from the UNC School of Government.
The C-FORT team has been instrumental in the success of the Fayetteville-area’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), offering low-level drug offenders harm reduction-oriented case management and legal services as an alternative to incarceration and prosecution. Individuals are diverted immediately into wrap-around services which include: drug treatment, emergency housing, food, medications, pregnancy programs, dual diagnosis treatment, education, and trade training. It also helps to redirect officers back into the street as soon as possible to handle more pressing law enforcement priorities. Other benefits include cost savings to social service and medical systems and reducing drug related injuries like overdose deaths and HIV & HCV infection. As a result of their promising work, the C-FORT team was recently awarded a federal grant, offering the county $900,000 over a three-year period. The team will start receiving funding in early 2020 and will begin implementing its action plan, including a media campaign and hiring staff to help with the post-overdose response in the community.
“Because of our participation with the UNC Opioid Response Project, we have been able to really pull this team together and employ a community coordinator,” said Larson. “That has been critical to our success and will really help propel us going forward.”
The C-FORT team describes their involvement with the Opioid Response Project as educational and rewarding. After identifying early strategies, teams were encouraged to set goals and objectives, then move on to key performance indicators, helping them realize their goals. “The School of Government had a game plan, helping each team walk away with an action plan,” said Larson. “It’s exciting now to see those plans start coming together.”
Bringing together 10 teams from across North Carolina has made it easier for team members to share information and participate in networking that might not otherwise be possible. These discussions are helping local leaders save time and avoid reinventing the wheel as they work quickly to tackle similar issues in their communities.
“Thanks to the UNC Opioid Response Project, the C-FORT team now has a strong action plan that takes into consideration all of the different facets of the opioid problem,” said Larson. “We have learned about the importance of including workforce development in our action plan. We know that joblessness is a problem linked with opioid addiction, and now we have an opportunity to include that in our action plan.”
As the new year begins, the C-FORT team is excited to be hiring three full-time staff. “Being selected for funding was a big win for us,” said Larson. “Now, we’re looking forward to the many small wins along the way that will pave the way toward achievement of our goals.”
The C-FORT team is working hard to become the creative and recovery-ready community they see as necessary to tackle the opioid epidemic. Because of the team’s involvement in the Opioid Response Project, they are already seeing that start to happen. “One of our members with Methodist University recently reported the launch of recovery meetings on campus beginning in January 2020,” said Larson. “It’s exciting that our members can get the energy and inspiration they need to feel empowered to start a conversation with their chain of command, helping to launch projects that will become an important part of our community’s success.”