MASON CITY — The Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health along with other area agencies have been awarded a special grant to support the formation of a regional team to develop a customized strategic response plan to address opioid and substance abuse prevention and treatment needs in north-central Iowa.

Health Department public health strategist Alyse DeVries says they along with MercyOne North Iowa, Prairie Ridge and the Mason City Youth Task Force were given the US Department of Health and Human Services Rural Communities Opioid Response Program planning grant to come up with a plan with an impactful response that is customized to our region.  “Something that is based off the needs that we have here, what our residents are experiencing, what the data is showing locally, and plan for it for what that’s going to look like moving forward to respond to the opioids that are currently in use and then trends of those that are projected to increase.”

DeVries says the team will work together to create a plan to bring more substance abuse counselors, mental health and medical providers to the area.  “A lot of the time substance abuse co-exists with mental illness and so they kind of go hand-in-hand. We are recognized as a mental health shortage area and part of this planning grant is looking at what we currently have for capacity to treat and deal with opioid response in mental health issues in our area, and then also recruit and I’m hopefully bring more providers to the area once we see where exactly are gaps are and what what’s needed in our in our region.”

DeVries says currently there are only six medical providers within a 50-mile radius of Mason City that offer what’s called Medication Assisted Therapy to help people with a substance abuse issue.  “It’s medication that is simply used to relieve withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings for the substance being abused. It’s something that we don’t have very many medical providers providing currently here, or there’s not been a lot of education on what to do with it, the needs for it, so we’re hoping to do a lot of education with providers and just kind of really do a deep dive into what we could be doing to assess and treat what we have going on in our area.”

DeVries says the Health Department is looking forward to working with the other providers on this opportunity.  “Really the Health Department doesn’t have a lot to do with substance abuse with opioids in general, but we’re really great at bringing impactful teams together. We’re good at building really great coalitions that make impact and significant positive change. So we’re excited to be that facilitator and going to start this dialogue and conversation to bring these agencies together that work so much in substance abuse and mental health, and come up with a very customized plan for our area that will hopefully help address what we have going on now, and really prepare us for the future and minimize that projected opioid issue that’s going on around the nation.”

Cerro Gordo County has been identified as a mental health shortage area, meaning there’s not enough mental health providers to meet the needs of the county’s population.