VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Dr. Josphine Chaumba has been given a grant to tackle a pressing issue in surrounding counties through a new planning project.
Chaumba’s project is called the Development of South Georgia Rural Communities Opioid Response Program Consortium.
Opioid usage has been on the rise. Chaumba said the rise can be attributed to several possible factors, including a high availability of prescription drugs that can be misused.
The grant will fund planning meetings, surveys and interviews with individuals affected by substance abuse, residents and service providers from Berrien, Coffee, Colquitt, Tift and Ware counties to gather views on available services for addressing opioid misuse and methamphetamine use.
Chaumba said Lowndes County is not currently eligible for the grant because of its urban area status but hopes that, upon the grant expiring, the work will continue and expand to include everyone in VSU’s 41-county service region.
The selected counties were chosen after statistics were collected for regional counties and found those were the highest risk areas looking at factors such as number of lives lost in the counties and emergency room visits for overdoses.
She also noted a factor that stood out was the Centers for Disease Control’s number of prescriptions available per 100 people in counties across the United States with each county within the project coming in alarmingly high.
The issue also expands beyond adults, Chaumba said, with not only children being exposed in utero, but children losing attention from parents who are users and possibly stumbling into experimentation themselves.
Funding will be granted through Feb. 28, 2022.
The plan is to work with community stakeholders to determine strengths, where there could be gaps in services, identify areas to prioritize and come up with a strategic action plan, Chaumba said. Stakeholders include Tiffany Henderson of Unison Behavioral Health in Waycross and Cherysh Green-Caldwell of the Tifton Judicial Accountability Court.
Both agreed the research will benefit their respective agencies.
“When we were asked to partner, we were definitely willing to commit to that. There’s a lot of complexity to the problem and there’s strength in collaboration. It enables us to work on common goals together and identify the needs and where we can do better as stakeholders,” Henderson said.
Within their respective agencies, both women work on an accountability core and see firsthand how clients could benefit.
“We provide direct services toward the individual suffering with opioid addiction; we have first-hand experience with the barriers they suffer,” Green-Calwell said. “I welcome the opportunity to let the consortium and our stakeholders know exactly what the issues our clients are suffering from are so we know what areas we need to work on as a community.”
Other participating organizations include Family Connection/Communities in Schools of Berrien County, Turning Point, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine South Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Department of Rural Studies, Tift Regional Hospital, Tift County Commission on Children and Youth, NAMI Moultrie, Never Lost, VSU Center for South Georgia Regional Impact, VSU Social Work Program and VSU Faculty.
As for community involvement, finding a proper prescription disposal location can make a difference. The Valdosta Police Department has a prescription drop-off box in its lobby and several can be found throughout Tifton including the CVS located on Eighth Street and the Tift County Sheriff’s Department.