Turning great ideas into healthier communities

Press Releases

Can Librarians Save Us from the Opioid Epidemic?

October 06, 2017

PHI to manage CHCF statewide opioid coalition network, calls for “All hands on deck.”


Oakland, CA. A local librarian in Humboldt County who successfully reversed an opioid overdose before paramedics arrived may serve as the new model for stemming California’s opioid death rate. The Public Health Institute (PHI) announces today it will take a leadership role to manage and build capacity in the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF)’s California Opioid Safety Network. 


In 2016, five Californians died every day in from opioid overdoses.  PHI’s Center for Health Leadership and Practice (CHLP) will work with a broad spectrum of stakeholders to shift how we talk about addiction, manage pain, and ensure that the most important tools — safer prescribing practices, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and harm reduction strategies such as making naloxone, a medication that reverses the deadly potential of opioid overdose more widely available — are acceptable, accessible, and affordable to all. Forty VISTA volunteers a year, up to 120 over a three year period, will join the effort, helping to deepen community outreach and engagement.


“We need all hands on deck to make a dent in this crisis,” says CHLP project director and vice president for external affairs and medical advisor at PHI Carmen Nevarez, MD, “We need to take life-saving treatments straight to the people who need them most. But most of all we need to cut opioid use drastically, so we can prevent these tragedies in the first place.”


Beginning in 2015, CHCF incubated and grew a statewide network to help local coalitions face the opioid crisis head on, bringing together doctors, law enforcement, public health agencies and other stakeholders—including the life-saving librarian in Humboldt County— to tackle targeted goals .


A PHI assessment of the network, Tackling an Epidemic (released earlier this month) found that local coalitions are having a big impact.  Among the 16 CHCF-supported opioid coalitions representing 23 counties across the state, over 90% have introduced safer prescribing guidelines and more than 75% have increased access to naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses. More than 50% expanded use of medication-assisted addiction treatment.

PHI will offer a multifaceted program to accelerate the impact of these local coalitions, focused on those same three strategies. PHI’s accelerator program will offer coaching, training and support, and will create a statewide learning network to share best practices, leverage resources and encourage peer-to-peer learning.


“This learning network is critical,” explains CHCF Director of High-Value Care Kelly Pfeifer, MD. “Coalition leaders have expressed that the greatest value of the network is learning from each other, since many face similar challenges.”


PHI has also received a three-year grant valued at more than $1 million per year from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, to place 40 AmeriCorps VISTA members with opioid safety coalitions. Funding from California Health Care Foundation will help support the implementation of this project. These AmeriCorps members will be trained and coordinated by the Public Health Institute and will be available for three years to help coalitions accelerate their work. CNCS has invested more than $10.5 million in opioid-related AmeriCorps and Senior Corps projects to address the current epidemic. The AmeriCorps VISTA members serving with PHI will join 1,200 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members in more than 150 communities across 45 states.


The VISTA volunteers will join the statewide effort, working with and in communities to identify needs, expand awareness, participation and support for the program as well as expanding the pool of volunteers to assist with service delivery. By the close of the effort, PHI anticipates that up to 2,200 staff and community volunteers will increase their effectiveness in fighting opioid related deaths and 80 organizations will receive capacity building services as a result of the work of the VISTA members.