One of the California Health Care Foundation's key strategies in addressing the opioid epidemic is to support a network of opioid safety coalitions. The coalitions are formed by community leaders who bring local stakeholders to the table – public health officials, medical societies, behavioral health and primary care providers, law enforcement agencies, and advocacy groups. These coalitions have already made a difference by lowering opioid prescribing rates and increasing access to addiction treatment.
In 2015, CHCF, with help from the California Department of Public Health, began supporting 16 coalitions across 23 counties with a program of training and technical support. Now we're excited to announce the next phase of this work. We've selected the Center for Health Leadership and Practice, a program of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute (PHI), to support the California Opioid Safety Network through 2019. The center designed a multifaceted program to accelerate the impact of local coalitions that focus on three core areas: safer prescribing practices, better access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for addiction, and harm reduction by dissemination of the overdose reversal agent naloxone and other strategies.
The center's accelerator program will offer customized coaching, training, and support and will create a statewide learning network to share best practices, leverage resources, and encourage peer-to-peer learning. This learning network is critical, as the number of counties with coalitions has grown from 23 two years ago to 36 today – and counting. Coalition leaders have said the network's greatest value to them is the opportunity to learn from each other, since many face similar challenges.
We know from PHI's recent assessment that supporting a network can help coalitions drive change. In only 18 months, opioid prescribing went down and buprenorphine prescriptions for MAT went up twice as fast in counties with coalitions receiving CHCF technical support. While California's death rate has held steady for the last two years, it has not increased, as has happened in other states hard-hit by the opioid epidemic. Local coalitions in a statewide network are a powerful tool to drive down the overdose death rate.
I'm also delighted that PHI has recently been awarded a significant grant to place AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members with coalitions. The Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that runs the program, will work with PHI to place 40 volunteers with opioid safety coalitions each year for up to three years. The first ones should be matched later this year. These volunteers, most of them recent college graduates, will work full-time on projects to assist coalition members, whose time is typically claimed by other jobs. CHCF funding will help support the implementation of this exciting opportunity.
The request for proposals for all coalition opportunities opens on Monday, October 16, and will be posted here. The center will host a one-hour webinar on Wednesday, October 18 at 4:00 PM to provide an overview of these opportunities. If you are working with a coalition (or want to learn more), please register here. We will post the webinar and slides on our website later to review if you cannot attend.