Island County opioid outreach team distributing COVID vaccines

The team has been highly successful despite challenges unique to their target population.

Island County Human Services has made significant headway in vaccinating people with substance use disorders against COVID-19.

Betsy Griffith, behavioral health supervisor, announced in a county Board of Health meeting May 18 that the opioid outreach team fully vaccinated 16 of the 86 individuals their group has had contact with as of April.

This may not sound like very many, Griffith said, but considering the challenges unique to people with substance use disorders that number represents a huge success.

“Our population is a little less likely to seek out traditional medical services, due to a variety of reasons,” Griffith told the Whidbey News-Times.

Many people with substance use disorders also experience homelessness, making them difficult to contact. Griffith said many members of this population were also nervous about receiving the vaccine and didn’t feel comfortable going to clinics or hospitals.

The outreach team employs an registered nurse qualified to administer vaccines so it was able to bring the shots to more familiar locations.

Working out of syringe exchange locations and SPiN Cafe, a food and resource center for the homeless, the outreach team got vaccines in the arms of 16 people with substance use disorders.

In addition to assisting in vaccination efforts, Griffith said in her update to the Board of Health that the outreach team distributed warm clothing to many people experiencing homelessness. She explained that many public places where people can warm up weren’t accessible during COVID-19 shutdowns.

The team also focused on distributing Narcan, a medicine used to treat opioid overdose.