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Challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic also discussed 
By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies
May 8, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- An effort to improve and expand access, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services surrounding Lakeside’s youth opioid epidemic began with an online town hall recently, hosted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) San Diego.
East County has the highest overdose rate of OxyContin in the region, according the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard. But the opioid epidemic stretches across San Diego County. It has health officials worried, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic limited access to services.

Statewide figures indicate that one out of every five high school juniors in California misused opioids last year, according to information provided by NAMI San Diego during the online session.
Youth Opioid Response (YOR) California is behind the effort in reaching out to local organizations to help with the strategic planning and training for the epidemic. The service is supported by a federal grant under the State Opioid Response program, with funding provided by the California Department of Health Care Services.
NAMI San Diego co-hosted the event in late April with the Institute for Public Strategies and the Lakeside Community Collaborative. It was originally scheduled to be held in March in Lakeside, but the cancellation of public events during the pandemic caused it to be moved online.
Event organizers heard from the public about developing a community action plan; prioritizing and addressing high-risk youth; promoting positive youth development; involving families and addressing the stigma of opioid misuse condition. 
Some of the town hall participants expressed their surprise about the number of kids involved in opioid misuse and the overdose rate in Lakeside; the lack of medically assisted treatment for youth after overdose; the lack of access to treatment in the East County, which is affected more than the rest of San Diego County; the ongoing stigma causing a barrier to support; and the number of addicted-born babies. 
“The average time between a first episode or indication that there is an issue to actually getting professional help is about 11 years and it’s getting longer,” said Suzette Southfox (photo, left), education director, NAMI San Diego. “You can lose your whole childhood in that time.”
Parent support groups and increasing parent involvement can go a long way in helping delays to treatment, according to Southfox. “Tele-health may become the new normal after the pandemic subsides.”
Information on how to participate in additional brainstorming sessions in the coming months is available on the NAMI San Diego website, which also has details about the services it provides. Or call NAMI San Diego at (619) 543-1434. For more information about IPS East County prevention efforts, contact Program Manager David Shorey at (619) 476-9100 x109 or by email at:
For more information and resources, visit the Up to Us San Diego website, the County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services May is Mental Health Month campaign page, the Access and Crisis line or 211 San Diego.
Unwanted and expired medications can be dropped off at local police stations and Sheriff’s Department substations throughout East County.

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