Hudson Valley teens trained to help reduce opioid overdose deaths

Amid rising opioid overdose rates and deaths across the country and in New York City, a program in the Upper Hudson Valley has sought help from local teens to combat the ‘epidemic.

Last spring, 10 teens were hired by the Mental Health Association of Columbia Greene (MHACG) workforce and trained and certified as youth peer leaders for the agency’s Youth Clubhouses. During the process, the new peer leaders learned about opioid use disorders and how to administer life-saving drugs like Narcan.

“Who knows better how to reach a 15-year-old to talk about recovery than another 15-year-old? »Youth Clubs Program Director, Phoebe Potter. “They know how to relate to each other and understand what is going to be relevant to each other. “

It was the first time that MHACG hired staff under the age of 18. Youth Clubhouses, which specifically provide resources to young people in recovery, seeking recovery or having been affected by substance use disorders, have always had a long-term vision of empowering young people to achieve goals. related to recovery and well-being.

Currently, Greene and Columbia, along with a number of other counties in New York City, are working to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40% over the next three years through the HEALing Communities study, a partnership between four states, health agencies and universities to test the interventions. to fight the opioid crisis. Last year, Greene County reported 14 fatal opioid overdoses and Columbia County has seven, according to the New York State Department of Health.

“The Clubhouse model is based on peers, the idea that people have lived experiences understand what is needed to go through recovery and can connect with people in that process,” Potter said. “Much of this work has been focused on adults. We realized that if we are to work with young people, both in prevention and recovery, we should empower young people to do work with their peers as well.

Thanks to the injection of funds provided by a study grant on HEALing communities, MHACG was able to hire and train peer leaders. They say the benefits of hiring young peer leaders are twofold: those seeking recovery assistance can work with people of the same age and have common experiences, and young peer leaders learn to empower themselves. and have the opportunity to enter the labor market.

Hiring young people also helps teens realize that “they have an important role to play in this area,” Potter said. Having a pathway for someone to come in as a participant and then take a leadership role helps empower adolescents and “reinforces their own journey of self-discovery.”

During their training, the young facilitators learned about opioid use disorders and how to dispense naloxone, or Narcan, a nasal medication developed to restore breathing in a person suffering from an overdose of opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, or prescription drugs such as OxyContin. .

“Narcan is a quintessential harm reduction strategy,” Potter said. “It’s about meeting people where they are and focusing on saving lives and reducing physical damage rather than punishment or abstinence. “

Youth clubs receive Narcan to administer from Greene County Mental Health Center and Columbia County Department of Health’s participation in statewide opioid overdose prevention and surveillance program .

Since this summer, the youth team has administered around 70 Narcan training courses and administered 50 Narcan kits.

Once the young leaders completed their own training, they were qualified to instruct other key community members on how to administer Narcan. In June, the young peers trained family members, teachers, school administrators, friends, neighbors and visitors to Youth Clubhouses.

In July, for example, the Catskill Clubhouse trained staff and community members in the Philmont Free Store, a self-help project. There, young peer leader Ayesha Jones trained 13 participants aged 14 to over 60. The teens also host a weekly radio show through a collaboration with WGXC 90.7 FM where they publicly broadcast the availability of Narcan training.

“We have a lot of positive feedback,” said Kai Hillmann, Director of Youth Clubhouses. “They did a really good job. Some further build confidence. Not everyone is necessarily a public speaker.

In addition to community outreach training and learning how to administer Narcan, young leaders are able to gain a broader view of harm reduction strategies that they can use for themselves and implement in their own right. the community.

“These are families who wouldn’t necessarily have access to this information or these resources,” Potter said. “Getting your hands on Narcan isn’t necessarily easy, especially if you’re not part of a program. This fills an important niche in allowing this particular demographic to have access to Narcan and these skills. “

Plus, it helps reduce the stigma surrounding recovery from addiction.

“You learn [addiction] does not discriminate and addiction and recovery have many faces and paths, ”Hillmann said. “Reducing stigma is huge. “

About Richard Chandler


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