How Working Together Impacts How We Address the Opioid Epidemic

Robin Shorter, Senior Director of Community Engagement

by Robin Shorter, Senior Director of Community Engagement

For 55 years, Integrity House has worked to address problematic substance use through evidence-based treatment and recovery services, stakeholder convening and coalition building, and advocacy. With the increasing prevalence of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is 50x more potent than heroin – we are all the more committed to exploring various strategies and tactics to stem the tide of the ongoing, deadly opioid epidemic. To that end, Integrity House emphasizes the importance of collective effort – working collaboratively with various community organizations to engage individuals in the community, promote harm reduction, and facilitate access to needed resources.  

As Senior Director of Community Engagement at Integrity House, I see firsthand how valuable collaboration can be. It plays a significant role in our Reach for Recovery program. In partnership with the County of Essex, our Reach for Recovery program performs outreach to an average of 500 individuals each quarter. Reach for Recovery operates around all of Essex County, in communities such as the Oranges, Irvington, Bloomfield, and Montclair. Individuals who interact with the Reach for Recovery program receive screenings for substance use disorder and social determinants of health;  educational resources on substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and mental health; information on virtual NA and AA meetings, transitional housing, food pantry sites, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); socks and snacks to address basic needs; and peer support, including warm handoffs to other organizations. During outreach, we’ve partnered with various entities that are aligned in mission to meaningfully help community members experiencing substance use disorders and co-occurring health and socioeconomic challenges:

  • Isaiah House provides shelter services. 
  • The Rutgers Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine (DAYAM), Hyacinth, and Iris House provide HIV testing and counseling;
  • Prevention is Key provides additional peer recovery coaches as well as Narcan training;
  • Newark Community Solutions is a resource for legal aid;
  • The Community FoodBank of New Jersey facilitates enrollment in the SNAP program; and

Many others!   This is only a snapshot of the organizations we collaborate with for the Reach for Recovery program. We work with many others through our other community engagement activities. This includes NJCRI, the Mental Health Association, the Newark Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness, and others. Community-based organizations are more effective when they collaborate to address the issues that individuals and families facing addiction and mental illness encounter. Where one organization may not have the resources, collective effort is an important strategy as it ensures community members access the full breadth of resources they need to lead healthy lives. 

Last year, in Essex County alone, there were 450 suspected opioid overdose deaths and 2,893 suspected opioid overdose deaths in the state, according to NJ CARES. Imagine if, by working together, community programs and treatment centers alike, those numbers could be severely reduced. We owe it to the people of New Jersey to come together and address the current opioid epidemic through sustained and broad collaborative action.

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