Opioid grant to Erie County to focus on women of childbearing age

Nov 20, 2017

A three-year, $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is coming to Erie County. The money will be used by the Erie County Health Department and its partners to address opioid misuse by a specific population: women of childbearing age.

Congressman Brian Higgins announced the grant Monday morning in downtown Buffalo inside the Neighborhood Health Center Mattina on Niagara Street. He explained the grants by HHS are competitive and that only 20 were awarded.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein (at podium) explains a $300,000 grant awarded by the federal government to address opioid misuse by women of childbearing age during a news conference in Buffalo on Monday. Joining her were, from left to right, Christina Jimerson of the Seneca Nation Health System, Neighborhood Health Center chief executive officer Joanne Haefner and Congressman Brian Higgins.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"Obviously this is a problem that needs more resources in all communities throughout the nation but this community in particular has been out front on this issue," Higgins said. "We are confident that this grant will work to achieve the objectives that all of us share. That is to reduce exposure and incidences of opioid deaths, particularly for this segment of the population."

The grant will focus on women between the ages of 15 and 44 years old. The Department of Health will provide training and consultation to help community-based OB/GYN centers screen, intervene and refer affected patients to treatment. 

The region, along with the rest of the nation, is experiencing a rise in cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome, according to Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. Babies who were frequently exposed to opioids in utero, she explained, show signs of withdrawal as soon as two days out of the womb.

"These newborns are poor feeders, might have difficulty breathing and some even develop seizures," Dr. Burstein said. "These newborns are also more likely to be set with other health problems, such as low birth weight and failure to thrive."

Partnering with the Erie County Health Department as recipients of this grant are Neighborhood Health Centers and the Seneca Nation Health System. An additional partner in fostering prevention efforts is the Catholic Health System.

Dr. Burstein pointed out that the services to be provided through the grant are billable, meaning more money will be generated to continue the program.

"We're really using the money as startup costs and evaluation costs just to make sure we have quality improvement in place and that we're doing it right and to really ensure that it works," she said. "This is a sustainable program. When the funding ends, this will continue."