The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) recently partnered with the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI), a dynamic alliance of organizations dedicated to finding solutions to the opioid crisis plaguing our communities nationwide. RALI interviewed NSA Executive Director, Jonathan Thompson, to learn more. NSA represents 20,000 members, including more than 3,000 locally elected Sheriffs.
Question (RALI): What has NSA been working on to combat the opioid epidemic?
Answer (Jonathan Thompson, NSA): Sheriffs are addressing the issue with a multi-layered, multi-dimensional approach, and NSA’s partnership with RALI is our most recent effort.
We are working with our members to ensure continuous education about opioid misuse. NSA has published several fact sheets on fighting opioid abuse and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in correctional settings. We have worked with a Federal Interagency Working Group, coordinated by the National Security Council, to develop a new training video, Fentanyl: The Real Deal, on the dangers of fentanyl. We also want to ensure our Sheriffs and deputies are themselves knowledgeable about the dangers of opioid abuse. We recently published a resource on MAT in corrections, since Sheriffs’ offices operate most of the jails in the United States.
Through a grant program from Purdue Pharma LP, NSA developed a program by which law enforcement agencies and jails could obtain free Narcan kits. This provided our first responders with critical opioid reversal treatments when they encountered an individual who overdosed.
NSA is constantly involved in conversations, roundtables, and summits on the issue at the federal and state level. For example, NSA held a panel discussion on the opioid crisis during our 2017 Annual Education and Technology Expo in Reno, Nevada. This was an important opportunity to further educate Sheriffs and deputies on opioid abuse. Further, NSA has held events in two states with high rates of opioid abuse: Ohio and Michigan. NSA brought together stakeholders from many sectors including law enforcement, education, healthcare, private sector and government agencies. The events highlighted the challenges and the success stories in combatting the epidemic. More work needs to be done, and NSA challenged attendees to report their action steps following these events.
NSA also held a national forum, bringing together national government officials and national and state experts. The event was held in Washington, D.C and had representatives of government agencies, law enforcement, faith-based groups, first responders and other non-profits. Featured speakers included White Counselor Kellyanne Conway; then Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Anne Hazlett, Assistant Secretary for Rural Development in the Department of Agriculture; and Jason Botel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. The roundtable resulted in several critical recommendations to combat the opioid crisis.
Q: What’s the thinking behind this new partnership?
A: The opioid crisis has now grown to such proportions that it is more than just a law enforcement problem, prevention, or treatment problem. It will take all of us, truly an all-of-the-above approach, to make a difference, and we are always looking for public-private partnerships that can help. Partnering with PhRMA, an industry partner dedicated to fighting opioid abuse, was a natural fit for NSA. We know we need to work with all stakeholders, from federal agencies to community-based organizations to industry, because the opioid epidemic is complicated and constantly threatens our members, communities and families.
RALI takes the opioid crisis as seriously as we do. In establishing this partnership with RALI, we knew we had identified a partner working to end the epidemic, just as our Sheriffs and deputies do every single day.
RALI is a diverse coalition of national, state, and local organizations. All stakeholders are working together to prevent opioid abuse. RALI unites communities and stakeholders, from law enforcement to nursing associations to anti-drug coalitions. Most importantly, RALI focuses on saving lives by collaborating with partner organizations. We have seen countless numbers of citizens fall to the opioid epidemic and this organized, comprehensive approach is critical.
Q: Is your partnership with RALI geographically focused?
A: NSA works with RALI in all states in which the coalition is currently active, including Indiana, Maryland, Nevada and New Hampshire. As RALI becomes active in more states, we will continue to work together through our Sheriffs and in partnership with state associations.
Q: What will the partnership with NSA and RALI focus on?
A: Sheriffs want to identify the best programs, and many of our members are leading innovative efforts to address the opioid crisis in their communities. We knew that there was a need to identify and share those ideas so that we can identify best practices to help others. To do this, a third-party researcher will be conducting in-depth interviews with Sheriffs from some of the hardest-hit counties in America on the ways law enforcement and their communities are fighting the opioid epidemic. The research firm will also survey Sheriffs from across the country to understand lessons learned from the programs that have worked and those that have not.
Upon the completion of the research project, NSA will work with RALI to share those ideas with other stakeholders so that we reach more communities, families, and individuals facing substance use disorders with resources and support that work. Through our efforts, combined with the support of RALI, NSA is looking forward to stopping the opioid epidemic in its tracks.