Nonprofits that provide drug rehabilitation locally and statewide may now have an extra weapon in the fight against opioid abuse, compliments of AmeriCorps in Oklahoma.
The program is now offering funds to nonprofits, faith-based and community organizations and government entities across the state for opioid prevention and education programs. The funds will employ AmeriCorps members to expand the reach and impact of substance abuse education, prevention and recovery efforts to combat opioid abuse.
Melinda Points, executive director of AmeriCorps in Oklahoma, said members may serve as recovery coaches who build and expand drug abuse education while recruiting more volunteers in the fight against drug abuse. The volunteers will promote the safe disposal of medication, conduct drug screenings and assessments and help reduce instances of relapse.
“This is an area that gets cut in state funding really quickly,” Points said. “It seems like this great need does not always correspond with the budget.”
The announcement comes one day after state lawmakers failed to pass House Bill 1054, which would have raised taxes on items like tobacco, motor fuel, beer and oil and gas to fill a $200 million budget shortfall.
The Legislature has been unable to plug the budget hole,  which is predicted to result in a reduction of social services across the state. Social workers feared dramatic cuts after lawmakers reconvened at the State Capitol after the regular session failed to remedy the budget woes.
Points hopes AmeriCorps members can reduce the impact of such cuts and said the organization wants to empower effectiveness in fighting against drug dependency.
“The nonprofits are the experts in this field … so this program can take on many different forms,” Points said. “We’re not the experts in treating addiction. The nonprofits would know how to best use AmeriCorps workers.”
The amount of funding available will depend on the size of nonprofits, Points said. Larger facilities will merit a greater capacity of AmeriCorps workers, and smaller nonprofits have the opportunity to team up in a coalition and apply for funding at www.okamericorps.com.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health ranks Carter County fifth in Oklahoma for highest rate of unintentional poisoning by prescription drugs. From 2007-2013, while Oklahoma had the sixth highest poisoning death rate in the nation.
Points said this program is the first of its kind from AmeriCorps and is inspired by what the organizations perceives as an epidemic that is “only worsening over time.”
“Within the past year, we really got a lot of interest in creating something like this,” Points said. “It’s just so bad in Oklahoma.”
Those who work in nonprofits must apply for funds from AmeriCorps by Wednesday, Dec. 20. Americorps asks social workers to call (405) 858-7278 for more details.