Supporting education on opioids for better health in Kansas

As with many other areas of the state, and the country as a whole, Finney County in the western part of Kansas has struggled with the effects of opioid abuse. Kansas reported over 600 drug-related deaths in 2021 — an increase of 42% since 2016.

Finney County — a highly diverse, rural area in the state — has one of the highest rates in the state per capita for non-fatal opioid overdose emergency room visits.  

One of the ways to help reduce the amount of opioid overdoses and deaths is through harm reduction, which is an evidence-based approach that encompasses prevention, risk reduction and health promotion. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is the most effective tool in the harm reduction toolbox.

Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids — including heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioid medications — when given in time. Naloxone is easy to use and small to carry.

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kansas recently gave a $50,000 grant to LiveWell Finney County Community Health Coalition (FCCHC) to help expand opioid abuse education. This includes three Narcan trainings in the region, education on the signs and symptoms of an overdose, naloxone to those who may need it, and information on local treatment providers for opioid use disorder. The program aims to provide the education and resources necessary to help save lives.

“Narcan is like first aid. If you see someone needing first aid, you give it,” said Callie Dyer, executive director of LiveWell Finney County. “It’s better to have it on hand and never need it than to need it and never have it on hand.”

LiveWell Finney County Community Health Coalition brings together dozens of local organizations to help address these issues head-on, ensuring it meets the needs of the diverse county. This includes keeping the trainings easy to understand, no matter what one’s background, and leading with a health equity lens.

“We’ve learned through trial and error that pictorial training works across the board,” Callie said. “If you can point to the pictures, people get it.”

By creating opportunities to train more people on how to handle these situations, there is more opportunity to save lives. In nearly 40% of overdose deaths, someone else was present.

“Harm reduction is a real thing,” Callie said. “We are so grateful to UnitedHealthcare to have this opportunity to be able to put this in our community, for the education and for naloxone to be given.”

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