Alisha Nelson is the director of RecoveryOhio, an initiative launched by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to combat opioid misuse. Nelson, who previously served as the director of substance abuse policy in the Ohio attorney general's office, spoke with Interact for Health about the state's efforts to stem the opioid misuse epidemic.
Interact for Health: Could you explain more about RecoveryOhio and its goals?
Nelson: The RecoveryOhio initiative aims to bring state agencies, organizations and commissions together to collaborate with the understanding that we all are serving the same families. The goal is to coordinate efforts to improve patient outcomes and the overall health and wellness of Ohioans. We understand and recognize there are sectors of the community that have unique experiences with mental health and substance use disorders. We want to hear from them and make decisions on how to move forward using their perspectives.
Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned through your work?
Nelson: One lesson I have learned so far is that collaboration makes a difference. When we share our resources, we make our money stretch further. When we bring perspectives together, we help to make sure all Ohioans have an opportunity to live healthy, productive lives. When we share our ideas, we get a better notion of what policies are needed to support individuals who work in this space.
Interact for Health: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Nelson: At the attorney general's office, we had the opportunity to invest $3 million over two years to launch several teams consisting of law enforcement, a treatment provider and others who worked together in a way that I don't think we've ever seen before. Law enforcement engaged with people to help get them into treatment and show them recovery is possible. It was one of those moments when I thought, "Wow, we have come a long way." The partnership just speaks to the change we have seen at the local level.
Interact for Health: Could you tell me a brief story that illustrates the effect of your work in the community?
Nelson: Our work has inspired people to step outside of their comfort zones. For example, we worked with a law enforcement official in Scioto County to deliver coats to schools. The law enforcement official started a program called Operation GRACE after he heard stories about children who did not have coats because of the drug epidemic. Since then, the official has received donated dryers, cots, food, towels, and washers to help children affected by the drug crisis. This shows how attitudes are shifting and more people are helping to reduce the stigma around substance use disorders.
Interact for Health: What about your work excites you or is most fulfilling?
Nelson: I am excited to think my work will help individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders have a better life. This is an opportunity to provide better and more understanding care to Ohioans by using the systems designed to serve individuals with mental illness.
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