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Northstate counties to create regional approach to opioid treatment

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WEAVERVILLE, Calif. - Health officials in Trinity County are trying to combat the overuse of prescription opioids and heroin by creating a partnership with surrounding counties for a regional approach to treatment.

Anne Lagorio, the assistant director of Trinity County Behavioral Health said the program is still in the planning phase and needs final approval from the state. She adds once approved it would only help those on Medi-Cal but hoped it would start a framework for support to end opioid abuse.

According to the California Department of Public Health, Trinity County had 1442.58 opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people, the highest amount in the state.

That number did not surprise Lagorio but she urged caution when looking at the numbers. "It's difficult looking at statistics for Trinity because we are the fifth smallest county as far as population," said Lagorio.

Those statistics are the exact numbers she wants to reverse using the help of eight neighboring counties: Del Norte, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Mendocino, Shasta, Modoc and Lassen counties.

"That's what we do, is someone comes in with a prescription medication problem. They work with the doctor to titrate down and reduce their use and then eventually to be free and off that medication," said Lagorio.

Trinity County Life Support is a non-profit ambulance service for the region. Paramedic Joshua Russell felt the area does not have a problem with heroin but with prescription opioids. He said as an intern his first call was for an overdose.

"You can kind of tell it's an opioid overdose just by what's around you. The scene around you and the fact that they're lying on the ground not breathing" said Russell.

Once fully implemented the program would offer Medi-Cal patients a full range of treatment options. Lagorio said they were targeting the middle third of the population who could not normally afford help on their own and needed assistance from the county.

"If we come together we can between us offer the full array of services and the services are great from residential, medication-assisted treatment, case management. All kinds of great services that right now are not available for our clientele," said Lagorio.

Over the years she's noticed the opioid trend changing with heroin use increasing as prescription abuse drops. But she's hopeful a regional program could grow to help those users as well.

"We're working to de-stigmatize and help people see that people struggling with an addiction or dependence, even in misuse they're people like you and I. To meet them with compassion and understanding," said Lagorio.

Trinity County's regional approach is in connection with Partnership Health and pending approval from the state. It's only a pilot program with current grant funding expected to last five years. The group aims to officially roll out new treatment program by July 2018.

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