The Epicenter of an Epidemic: Walker County’s Opioid Problem
Walker County, Alabama, was identified as the center of Alabama's opioid crisis by Drug Enforcement Administration data made public in 2019.
Walker County has a population of 63,000, with 46.4 deaths per 100,000 residents caused by opioids, according to research conducted by students of the University of Alabama's STEM-MBA program. There are 216 legal opioid prescriptions per 100 individuals, which equates to two or three prescriptions for every person.
The Health Resources and Services Administration awarded a University of Alabama led research team a $200,000 grant in 2019 to implement substance abuse prevention and treatment. The UA multidisciplinary team helped research these issues with health and education partners in Walker County.
The university's STEM-MBA program partnered with Capstone Rural Health Center to focus their efforts into four regions; workforce development, children affected by addiction, the legal system, and housing for individuals recovering.
While Walker County's unemployment rate is about 3-12%, the STEM program students used their own equation to determine the number of discouraged workers. In Walker County, 39.6% of people are discouraged workers. Of those people, 23.8% are disabled and receive disability checks.
The opioid epidemic in the county has impacted the children just as much as the residents. The county spent $915,000 in grants for children involved in welfare programs, offering one counselor for every 325 kids, according to data collected by students in the program.
Walker County also participates in drug courts, which effectively reduce recidivism by 50%. Drug courts take place over an 18-month period with two or more monthly meetings for those with non-violent crimes.
For those seeking assistance with substance abuse, there are currently two sober living facilities available. The Capstone Rural Health Center said the county is seeking 30-60-90-day treatment facilities to offer to those recovering from addiction.
After the research conducted by the UA STEM-MBA program and Capstone Rural Health Center, the county saw more resources becoming readily available to the community.
Walker County currently has 59 participants in its diversion program. Eight individuals recently graduated from the program, avoiding 27 years in prison. The STEM-MBA students calculated the amount of money saved by taxpayers. Taxpayers saved $473,000 per every third of the graduate's prison sentences. Walker County taxpayers also saved $662,000 due to the reducing of recidivism.
The Walker County School District has provided mental health coordinators for trauma training for the district's teachers. The students in the program reported that the county secured a total of $110,700 in grants.
Capstone Rural Health Center, Alabama Department of Public Health, Walker Area Community Foundation, and other strong forces in the county stay dedicated to addressing and aiding the prescription pain pill issues.