Rural Communities Opioid Response Program hosts summit in Van Horn

VAN HORN — The Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) for Region 10 hosted its first summit in Van Horn on Wednesday — and organizers hope there are more to come. RCORP is a part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, and provides funding to rural communities to help combat the opioid epidemic. Opioid overdose deaths claim the lives of nearly 69,000 Americans each year, representing the bulk of deaths due to substance abuse. 

RCORP’s Region 10 encompasses Presidio, Brewster, Jeff Davis, Culberson and Hudspeth counties. The organization put up posters around the region with the slogan “No Cap,” slang for “No Lies.” It’s all a part of program coordinator Emily Garcia’s master plan: ending the stigma of substance abuse by engaging local youth with fun and accessible content. 

“The main challenge that we have is stigma — people are afraid of reaching out, people are afraid to talk about it. Our goal for the summit is to raise awareness that people are not alone and there is help,” she said. “My staff is fairly young. So we want to talk about it in a way that people will reach out, through games and health fairs and things like that.”

Garcia opened an office in Van Horn a year ago with help from Aliviane, “The primary provider of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services in West Texas for men, women and adolescents,” per their website. The El-Paso-based organization is hoping that telehealth services will make addiction and recovery services more accessible for Region 10 folks, who already face huge gaps in available healthcare. 

RCORP Region 10 currently operates two telehealth offices in Van Horn and one in Fort Davis, but Garcia stressed that her organization’s services are still available to folks in locations that don’t have a physical office. “They can do it in the comfort of their own home, through Zoom,” she explained. “We can do case management, we can do counseling, we have all kinds of programs.” 

After Governor Abbot slashed $211 million from the state’s mental health initiatives in April, she stressed that her organization wants to help close those gaps. She booked Amber Buchanan, a mental health specialist with telehealth service Charlie Health, to talk about the link between addiction and mental health. 

It’s a conversation local advocates hope continues. Michael Drinkard of Terlingua’s branch of the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend would like to see these kinds of services expand in the region. “I haven’t noticed a drop in mental health healthcare funding because it seems like mental healthcare does not exist around here,” he said. “There’s a big need for more of that — I’ve seen a big deterioration in [mental health] over the past two years with the pandemic.” 

Another service that RCORP can provide is Narcan training. Narcan is an inhalable opioid inhibitor that can be used to help reverse overdoses. Its generic form, naloxone, is also available as an intramuscular injection. A shortage of the drugs has hit headlines in recent months, but Garcia and Drinkard have planned ahead. 

“A paramedic from Central Texas came out to deliver some COVID tests and asked if there was anything else we might need,” Drinkard explained. “I said, ‘It sure would be nice to have some Narcan’.” 

Though the inhalable form of the drug is relatively user-friendly, training to spot the signs of an overdose is key. “We do provide the training and we provide the product at the end. Right now, it’s very hard to get a hold of, but we do have some boxes, at least to start off with,” Garcia said. 

She’s hoping that RCORP can plant roots in the region, even after its initial grant funding runs out. “We’re hoping that we stay here for the long run. After our grant ends, we’re hoping to be able to still provide the same services if not more,” she said. “Small counties need the help as well.”

Van Horn is her organization’s home base for right now, but she’s planning to host a version of Wednesday’s summit in Alpine later this summer, in hopes of reaching a wider Region 10 audience. “We’re just looking for a space right now,” she said.