Digging Deep: Attacking the Opioid Epidemic at its Roots

Digging Deep: Attacking the Opioid Epidemic at its Roots

Replicating an innovative model for multi-sector community-based collaborative action across America

This will be the first in a series of blogs on TLI’s Community Collaborative™.

People, families and communities are in deep pain as the death toll from substance abuse continues to climb. For the first time in centuries, life expectancy decreased in the United States. The roots of these issues are found where hope for a better future is dying, where isolation and loneliness are common, and where people segregate themselves from the rich cultures and traditions of those they label as “other”.

Opioids, cocaine and methamphetamines are highly addictive whether prescribed for pain or obtained illegally. Addiction impacts the rich and poor alike, all races and ethnicities and at all levels of society. Impoverished communities and communities of color have been dealing with the impact of substance abuse for decades without adequate access to care, resources to recover and support for reentry into productive society. The number of deaths by drug overdose has captured national attention and resources. It is imperative that communities suffering the most are supported to use these resources to leverage community assets and actions to inspire hope and to generate opportunity and cross-cultural connections.

This is precisely the aim of The Community Collaborative™ developed by the Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation (TLI). The Community Collaborative™ is designed to bring together diverse organizations, both public and private, with other stakeholders to collaborate on asset-leveraged action.

Complex issues require broad multiple stakeholder perspectives to understand and tackle the problems, not short term, simple actions. The opioid crisis demonstrates the fallacy of simple solutions:

Reducing  opioid prescriptions in Ohio pushed opioid use underground shifting to illicit drugs, but not adjusting physician opioid prescribing patterns ignores the correlation between prescribing and overdoses.

Looking at only the socio-economic determinants of health ignores the addiction and overdose rate in affluent communities.

Access to care is a big problem but only the first step, and failure to treat underlying mental health issues ignores the fact that over 50% of opioids in the US are prescribed to people with mental health problems.

Individuals in recovery need the support of employers, and employers need a productive and healthy workforce

It is said that in every crisis there is a seed of opportunity. The opportunity in the opioid crisis is to strengthen communities through collaborative action toward wellness.

Collaboration is often described as a process to reach goals that cannot be achieved by one single agent. Creating thriving communities where the socio-economic drivers of health are optimized and barriers to health and well-being minimized takes the support of committed citizens, the experts in their own communities. Creating thriving communities takes a long-term investment in individuals, neighborhoods, the environment, clinical practice and programs that reintegrate people with a substance use disorder into productive society.

TLI: An Asset-Based – Action Oriented Approach

TLI has deep expertise and more than 20 years of experience convening and bringing together diverse groups toward a shared vision and action. We are applying this model to the opioid epidemic and supporting collaborative partnerships that result in asset-based community efforts that strengthen bonds and mobilize the community.

The goal is to generate social capital – a form of capital that produces positive results for a common good. Our approach centers on engaging community leaders from all sectors, inviting them to share their stories, ideas and innovation – moving them from dialogue to vision to action. We bring together multiple groups throughout each community, engaging diverse organizations that deal with socio-economic disparities, structural racism, resource injustice and the loss of a sense of community.

TLI’s Community Collaborative™

  • In a Learning Community, the problem or challenges have not yet been determined and therefore, the group is not ready for the rapid cycle test of change needed for breakthrough change. Leaders engage in facilitating the group so that the group members determine the challenges to tackle together and the appropriate metrics that will be measured. The goal is joint learning to achieve collective impact.

  • A Breakthrough Collaborative is a systematic approach in which organizations and providers test and measure practice innovations and then share their experiences to accelerate learning and widespread implementation of best practices using a roadmap established by a panel of experts. This type of collaborative involves organizations working together at a high level of intensity for a specific period, typically 6-18 months, and is most frequently applied to health care quality improvement.

  • TLI’s Community Collaborative™ model leverages the flexibility of a learning community and the structure and action-oriented process of a breakthrough collaborative to achieve breakthrough improvements and innovation in community wellness. TLI’s Community Collaborative™ is designed to bring participant teams together to dream, discover, design and test innovative actions that optimize community assets to achieve community wellness.

Collaboration is characterized by joint development of a set of common goals and directions; sharing responsibility for obtaining those goals; and working together to achieve those goals. Getting to collaboration is a journey that requires constant communication, shared vision, trust and respect. Building on existing community efforts and assets, TLI’s Community CollaborativeÔ  engages and coordinates local community resources, fosters public-private partnerships, and supports key stakeholder actions to deal with the root causes of this public health crisis. This model for collaboration can speed adoption of a full spectrum of solutions in the areas of opioid supply, demand, rescue, recovery, and reintegration. TLI will:

  • Develop and manage the collaborative infrastructure until it is sustainable by the community

  • Provide subject matter experts and technical assistance

  • Organize and analyze critical data and give community data back to community organizations to inform their work

  • Connect local, state and federal leaders to the work of the community

The Journey Begins

Our approach strengthens virtually every member of the community by fostering the economic and social health of communities while improving access to care and overdose prevention resources. We are working to decrease community members’ vulnerability to opioids and other substance use challenges while transforming the lives of the families and friends of persons with substance use disorders.

It is a tall order. We aim to amplify and accelerate the great work being done from coast to coast. We liken our role to that of an incubator capable of birthing innovation and creating ways for the community to respond to a number of local crises, such as opioid misuse.

In multiple settings and locations, this coordinated approach will foster transformative change leading to the emergence of a powerful network of community leaders working together. This strategy strikes at the heart of the opioid epidemic and can help cities, counties and states nationwide create a way of life that inspires hope and happiness.

We are able to perform this work through the generosity of philanthropists and communities that are committed to investing in their own futures.


TLI Community Collaborative™ in Practice: LA County Community Collaborative (LAC³)

TLI, with the Los Angeles County Departments of Public Health and Mental Health, have created the LA County Community Collaborative (LAC³), an incubator of innovation to address the nation’s opioid crisis. Guided by our TLI Community CollaborativeÔ model, LAC³ aims to promote social and environmental conditions that protect communities from the harms of opioid use. For more information, check out our LAC³ Project Spotlight – Connecting Communities to Transform Lives.

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About TLI Foundation:

TLI Foundation is a nonprofit foundation focused on driving innovative thinking and action on global issues relating to health, education and economic empowerment. The organization is committed to fostering transformative change and improving the health and well-being outcomes of communities around the world.