Since 2015, the Twin Counties and Healthy Places NC have targeted key health issues including obesity, substance misuse, lack of access to behavioral health services and childhood trauma.

Poor health outcomes are also impacted by profound poverty throughout the community. Many of these areas are also vulnerable to natural disasters.

Through Healthy Places NC, a rural health initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Twin Counties residents have identified adverse childhood experiences, obesity reduction, and substance misuse as three key issues to address.

Six Healthy Places NC counties have identified substance misuse as a critical health issue in their communities. To support counties as they work toward the goal of reduced rates of substance misuse and overdose deaths, specifically among Medicaid and uninsured populations, the trust is investing in strategies that include community-based research that engages residents in the process of data collection and planning, systems change approaches that arise from the community planning process and evidence-informed and evidence-based approaches to prevent substance misuse among vulnerable populations.

Project Momentum Inc. will collect data about substance misuse and overdose deaths in the Twin Counties to provide holistic, big-picture findings and data to assist with the communities’ efforts to identify gaps in services and root causes to help combat substance misuse in Edgecombe and Nash counties.

In recent years, stakeholders in North Carolina have spent considerable time and energy crafting recommendations to confront the complex issues of behavioral health and substance use at the state level. A lack of treatment capacity, high uninsured rates in some sections of the population due to a lack of Medicaid expansion and rising opioid overdose deaths prompted the creation of these plans.

Like many parts of the state, rural Healthy Places North Carolina communities are struggling to reduce rates of addiction to harmful substances and to decrease or eliminate overdose deaths.

Led by Executive Director Mysha Wynn, Project Momentum Inc., is a community-focused non-profit based in Rocky Mount that provides substance abuse assessments and resources to individuals dealing with substance abuse and dependency. From her clients, Wynn has learned about the complex individual, interpersonal and community factors that contribute to substance misuse and sobriety behaviors in Edgecombe and Nash counties.

Project Momentum is partnering with the Twin Counties Partnership for Healthier Communities and a consulting firm, Lenell and Lillie LLC to gather data to create widespread awareness of substance abuse and misuse at the community level, beyond just rates and percentages.

“To effectively implement treatment and interventions that will create behavior change, you have to know the needs of the individuals as well as those of the community,” Wynn said.

Wynn and her team hope to bring together members of the community — stakeholders, civic leaders, family members, as well as individuals in treatment and their families — to get to the root causes of substance abuse and misuse in the Twin Counties and inform potential community interventions.

“By grounding our work in life course and systems perspectives, we are able to confront the root causes behind substance abuse and misuse,” Wynn said. “We’re in a planning period where we’re trying to understand the gaps in existing data, fill the gaps, and present the data to the community–to help us develop solutions to address the gaps that we find.”

“Oftentimes, the first step for a community working to address a health challenge is understanding the scope of the problem and the data behind the issue,” said Adam Linker, program officer at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “At the trust, we are working in partnership with communities like the Twin Counties to change the systems that lead to poor health outcomes. We are investing in the Project Momentum research to support residents as they work to understand substance misuse in their community and develop long-term solutions.”

The team is also compiling a resource guide for treatment and recovery options in the Twin Counties and surrounding area.