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SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 26, 2020) — The UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing will administer and support a new harm reduction initiative approved Feb. 11 by Bexar County Commissioners Court. The Commissioners appropriated $80,000 for this public health program, the first to be publicly funded in the state.
“There are decades of research showing that access to sterile syringes, rather than sharing or reusing them, decreases the spread of highly infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Providing a mechanism for the safe disposal of used syringes reduces the likelihood of exposure to all members of the community, including law enforcement. These types of programs also create critical opportunities to connect people who use drugs with health and social services, treatment and recovery support services,” said Lisa Cleveland, Ph.D., APRN, FAAN, from the School of Nursing, will administer this program.
The appropriation of these county funds will allow the School of Nursing to support efforts that have been ongoing in Bexar County. “The Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition and St. Luke’s Baptist Church have been doing a great job of providing these services to community members who need them for years, with no funding. With this grant, my team at the School of Nursing will assist both organizations to expand their capacity to provide more comprehensive services to more of our most vulnerable neighbors. The funding also will enable us to demonstrate the value of their work to our community,” she said.
Dr. Cleveland has received more than $30 million through contracts with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of State Health Services over the past several years to combat the opioid epidemic in Bexar County and throughout Texas.
Statewide Narcan training and distribution
Her team is administering one of the largest and most productive Narcan distribution programs in the country. Narcan is a nasal spray form of the overdose-reversal medication naloxone. Through this program, the School of Nursing is training first responders, such as law enforcement, emergency personnel, family members and the general public, to save lives by recognizing and responding to an overdose.
Saving lives of released inmates with opioid use disorder
Dr. Cleveland has also helped establish the first program in Texas to provide training and Narcan to inmates being released from the Bexar County Jail. Since then, her team has helped two other county jails in Texas — Harris and Travis — develop similar programs.
“Evidence shows that individuals being released from incarceration are 40 times more likely to die from overdose in the first two weeks than members of the general public. Knowing these facts, the aim of this program is to provide Narcan and education to inmates and their family members to prevent overdose deaths,” she said.
Partnering with SAFD’s Mobile Integrated Health unit
Dr. Cleveland and her team are also partnering with the San Antonio Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Healthcare (MIH) unit and the San Antonio Council on Drug & Alcohol Awareness (SACADA) to conduct follow-up visits with opioid overdose survivors and connect them to life- saving treatment and recovery support services. Through this paramedicine program, called the Texas Targeted Opioid Response or TTOR, more than 1,000 overdose survivors have received follow-up support to include overdose prevention education and free Narcan.
Commissioners submit grant to support Casa Mia
Also mentioned at the Bexar County Commissioners meeting was a grant submitted by Bexar County for $2 million to help support Casa Mia. In 2018, Dr. Cleveland’s team partnered with Crosspoint Inc. to open Casa Mia, a recovery residence that offers safe housing and support services for both women and children who have been impacted by opioid use disorder. Casa Mia is one of only a few recovery homes nationwide that allow women to stay with their babies while completing a drug treatment program. Although Bexar County has a lower percentage of people with opioid use disorder than other places in the nation, the county reports the highest number of infants born experiencing opioid withdrawal, a condition referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS.
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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, now called UT Health San Antonio®, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities. With missions of teaching, research, healing and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced 36,500 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.