Community Partners Against Substance Abuse (CPASA) has been developing and presenting strategies for substance abuse prevention in Bureau and Putnam counties since 2009. Some of those strategies have changed over recent years as the area, along with the rest of the country, has become aware of the risks of some prescription drugs and heroin.
Among those changes have been an increased awareness of the link between substance use disorders like addiction and other mental health issues including depression, suicide and behavioral health disorders.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on its web page MentalHealth.gov explains the relationship this way: "Mental health problems and substance use disorders sometimes occur together. This is because:
• Certain illegal drugs can cause people with an addiction to experience one or more symptoms of a mental health problem.
• Mental health problems can sometimes lead to alcohol or drug use, as some people with a mental health problem may misuse these substances as a form of self-medication
• Mental and substance use disorders share some underlying causes, including changes in brain composition, genetic vulnerabilities and early exposure to stress or trauma
• More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance use problem.
In 2015, CPASA learned from Bureau County Coroner Janice Wamhoff there had been eight heroin-related deaths in the first nine months of that year. CPASA called a town hall meeting in response to that information and as a result, a multi-pronged approach to the specific issues of prescription drugs and heroin was undertaken. Partners in that effort included medical and mental health professionals, the faith-based community, law enforcement and others. It became clear early on in that push that harm reduction needed to be an important goal of their efforts both on its own and as part of the overall prevention strategy.
As this group began attempting to deal with persons facing substance use disorder and related problems, it also became clear there was a lack of information about available local mental health services in general and how to access them. This problem went beyond persons with current substance use disorders and impacted many other mental health issues.
Dawn Conerton, CPASA coordinator, explained what happened next.
“We felt we needed to find a way to get information about available local mental health services, including but not limited to substance use services, into the hands of people who needed it in a non-stigmatizing way," she said. "As we talked we also realized there may be many more people that could benefit from this information than we originally may have thought because many people may need to look for resources for themselves, a family member or a friend with concerns that have little or nothing to do with substances.
“We talked about the idea of how to reach every house that we could with information, and from that, came the idea of door hangers. Then someone remembered that May is Mental Health month and off we went.”
CPASA gathered information from mental health service providers interested in participating and developed a door hanger that contains local contact information. No provider was charged for inclusion on the handout.
CPASA members volunteered to take responsibility for distributing the hangers in their communities and the BP Power teen group, BVHS National Honor Society and other youth and community members stepped forward to help.
During May, this group will be leaving door hangers wherever they can in Bureau and Putnam counties.
“The hope is residents will set the door hanger aside somewhere where they can refer to it in the future if they feel they or someone they love or know may benefit from knowing where to turn for help or services. Many people may never need it, but it’s kind of like those little CPR cards, if you do need it, you may need it quickly – and now they’ll have it,” Conerton said.
The volunteers that will be distributing the door hangers will not knock on doors or ring doorbells, they will simply leave the card on the door. Anyone with questions or concerns should contact Conerton at CPASA at the Bureau Putnam Health Department office, 815-872-5091.