Even before COVID-19 arrived on America’s doorstep we were battling another health crisis — opioid use disorder. Nearly 90 percent of Community Health Centers offered behavioral health services onsite, including opioid treatment services before the massive pivot to address the pandemic began. And the grim news is that COVID may have worsened the problem of addiction by forcing people into isolation. A recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care observed that “social distancing is potentially concealing a surge of opioid abuse, and resulting morbidity and mortality, larger than any we saw before.”
For the black community, already hard hit by the virus, a holistic approach to answering this double threat was in order. In St. Louis, MO, Kanika Turner, MD, Associate Medical Director at Family Care Health Centers, swung into action with an approach that demonstrates exactly how health centers reach beyond the typical medical chart to address the factors that can worsen health outcomes. She launched efforts to boost access to Narcan (naloxone), a nasal spray used for treating an opioid overdose, as part of the massive COVID testing already underway at the health center.
In a recent interview with the St. Louis American Dr. Turner said, “When we look at where these disparities are, it brings a lot of questions. Where is the nearest treatment center? And if you look at the map of treatment centers and locations, there are not too many that are close enough to the high-risk areas experiencing a lot of the overdose deaths… If you look at the map where the COVID cases are, it’s very similar to the same map for overdose deaths. People can come for COVID testing, but if they need access to naloxone at these testing sites, they’ll have access to Narcan as well,” she said. “I think it’s unique that we’re bridging those two.
Turner is also helping to spread this concept among other health centers and the proposed testing sites in churches, located in areas hardest hit by the pandemic.
Her efforts have drawn notice. This week she will be honored with the 2020 St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund John Anderson Excellence in Mental Health Award, as part of the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Health Care.