The Louisiana Department of Health on Friday wrapped up a three-day Opioid Action Summit that brought together hundreds of healthcare providers, subject matter experts and addiction treatment providers who are dedicated to addressing the opioid epidemic.

The summit included more than two dozen panels, breakout sessions and discussions surrounding addiction and recovery, all focused on responding to the opioid crisis that is costing the state hundreds of lives and millions of dollars each year. The summit ended on Friday with a harm reduction town hall open to the public that helped the Department of Health gather input on how to improve treatment and better connect health and recovery leaders in ending the crisis.

“The Opioid Action Summit — the first the Department has held — was an example of how the Department is bringing together resources and listening to people across the state to more effectively respond to some of Louisiana’s greatest health challenges,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. “The Department is determined to address this crisis head-on by dedicating the right resources in the right places and helping communities across the state put strategies into place that will save lives and help those affected by the crisis recover.”

Gee added that the Department is also focused on reducing the stigma surrounding addiction.

A call to action

Participants in the summit came from a wide range of backgrounds, including law enforcement, the faith community, public health and nonprofit leaders, addiction treatment and behavioral health providers and regional human services providers. These participants addressed a variety of topics that were designed to inform best practices around addiction care, including how to reach specific populations and form community coalitions, addressing addiction in pregnant mothers and their children, and approaches to treatment.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared the week a “Call to Action Week,” urging residents across Louisiana to focus on utilizing previous actions taken by the Governor and the Department to respond to the crisis, as well as getting access to evidence-based treatment.

“The opioid crisis has caused irreparable harm across Louisiana, but we can turn the tide on this devastation,” said Gov. Edwards. “Our new laws and policies are integral to helping our residents struggling with opioid addiction get the help they desperately need and understanding where and how frequently overdoses are occurring so we can work to prevent further harm.”

Future initiatives

Going forward, the Department has a number of initiatives planned that are aimed at stemming the opioid epidemic.

  • In January, the Department will begin funding methadone treatment using Medicaid dollars, allowing people with a substance use disorder who are eligible for Healthy Louisiana health insurance to get access to medication-assisted treatment.
  • The Department has begun rolling out harm reduction strategies to five communities in the state. These strategies are aimed at reducing the prevalence of infectious diseases among intravenous drug users and protecting first responders and the public from exposure to needles.

Later this month, the Office of Behavioral Health will release its Opioid Response Plan, which will serve as a roadmap to decreasing the effects of the opioid epidemic. The plan will outline ways to deploy widespread public educational efforts, aggressive prevention campaigns and quality treatment services.