SWACH convened the Clark County Opioid Taskforce (CCOT) in the Summer of 2019 as part of a regional effort to address the opioid crisis.
For our latest 5 Questions interview, we spoke with CCOT co-chair Larisa Klein, who is also the director of business development at Rainier Springs, a behavioral health hospital in Vancouver.
Tell us a little about the Clark County Opioid Taskforce. What is it? Who is involved?
The CCOT is a collaboration between cross-sector partners in Southwest Washington, particularly Clark County. We’re focused on collaborative approaches to addressing the opioid crisis. I’m the co-chair of the steering committee, along with partners and stakeholders such as Legacy Health, a recovery coach with lived experience, a prevention specialist from a local school district (ESD112) and Jim Jensen from SWACH.
Although we’re fairly early in the process, we’ve already started to organize around four key focus areas: prevention, overdose prevention, treatment and recovery. We are very interested in making a positive impact quickly, because this issue affects so many members of our communities. Opioids kill more than 130 people every day in the U.S. In fact, Americans are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car accident. It’s staggering.
What drew you to participate in this work?
For me, it’s both personal and professional. In my role at Rainier Springs, it’s important to make connections and form partnerships across the community. Personally, I have family members who have struggled with addiction and been through the criminal justice system. I’m also very passionate about behavioral health and mental health. I believe that mental wellness is something that needs more attention. People are struggling with anxiety, addiction, mental health challenges and the need for connection in a world that can be very isolating. We need to focus more on addressing these issues as a society.
What are some of the barriers to addressing the opioid crisis in Southwest Washington
One of the major challenges is that once people interact with healthcare or treatment, they’re going to need additional support. It’s very hard from the time they discharge from a program to when they start seeing an outpatient provider. That’s a critical time, and we need to address how we’re getting people engaged with recovery coaches so that they’re less likely to fall through the cracks.
There’s a big need to educate folks across settings about the role of recovery coaches and how to connect patients to that support. That means educating a variety of stakeholders, from workers in emergency departments, treatment centers and outpatient programs, to those in unconventional places like Emergency Medical Services. Plus, we need enough recovery coaches in the community to actually meet the need.
What are some of the key opportunities for the taskforce and other stakeholders to make a difference?
One area where we can quickly make a difference is through increased awareness and deployment of Narcan, the anti-overdose medication. Community members are not necessarily aware of how accessible and effective Narcan is. The key to Narcan education is making it as simple and talked about as First Aid and CPR. That’s one of the most impactful ways we can help save lives.
Beyond that, increased cross-sector collaboration is a big one. And education about the role of recovery coaches. Low barrier access to treatment is also important. There’s a real opportunity to build partnerships and bridges and make connections that support a continuum of care.
Why is it important to involve cross-sector partners and individuals with lived experience in this work?
It’s important to have cross-sector partners at the table because we all do different things. In our various organizations, we’re often super focused on what we do every day and trying to do it well. So, we need to understand the resources that exist in our community and how we can work together to support people experiencing substance use disorder.
Listening to those with lived experience is also essential. We need to be able to put ourselves in people’s shoes and understand what it’s like to go from organization to organization trying to get help.
What do you hope to see this group accomplish?
We want to make a difference. If we’re able to save even 5, 10, 20 lives then we’re on the right track. We want more people to have access to the support they need. And if we can get to a place where we don’t need to have a taskforce, that’s a win too. So, we need to build bridges beyond this taskforce. We need to focus on ways to get more people into recovery and help them get the support they need so they don’t fall through the cracks. That’s what we’re thinking about and we look forward to moving this work forward, together.
About Larisa Klein, M.A.C.
Larisa Klein, M.A.C. is the Director of Business Development for Rainier Springs, SW Washington’s newest behavioral health hospital located in Vancouver. She sits on the Clark County Opioid Task Force Steering Committee and serves as Co-Chair. She is a trained mental health counselor and has worked in the behavioral health and addiction treatment space for 13 years. She is passionate about helping people and advocating for mental wellness and eradicating the opioid crisis.