Hope at the Center: A Changemaker Profile

4 min read
Nov 9, 2022 11:57:00 AM

At mySidewalk, we have the honor of supporting changemakers all over the country. In this article, we highlight a team who continues to inspire us — The Florida Department of Health in Volusia County. Specifically, we're profiling the work of Path4Hope, the County's holistic approach to substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery.

The Rise of Substance Use Disorder

If we polled 10 random people who walked past our office right now and asked if they knew someone who was struggling with substance use disorder, we would likely get a "yes" from the majority of them. Substance (mis)use may not be easy to spot. Substance use disorder is a disease, and the sooner someone seeks help, the better.

Drug-related deaths are rising all over the country, with deaths due to opioid overdose driving this increase. According to the National Safety Council, “The 25- to 34-year age group is experiencing the most opioid overdose deaths – 17,344 – a 38% increase from 2019, and a 1,312% increase since 1999. Currently, 72% of preventable opioid deaths occur among those ages 25 to 54, and the number of deaths among individuals 55 and older is growing rapidly.” 

The increase in substance use disorder was partially responsible for a decrease in average life expectancy between 2014-2017, particularly among non-Hispanic black males. Deaths due to suicide are up as well. Mental health and substance use are two branches of the same tree — it's clear that there are root cause issues feeding these dual epidemics. Inequality, racial injustice, and healthcare policies have contributed to an environment that allows despair, addiction, and hopelessness to grow. 

Figure 1: Contribution of various causes of death on the overall life expectancy by race and gender. Source: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-082619-104231


Challenges in Volusia County 

Volusia County was one of the first mySidewalk customers in the state of Florida and the first in the state to launch an interactive Community Health Assessment. We were immediately drawn to their team — they have an uncanny ability to face challenging circumstances while also remaining hopeful. We were also fascinated by the unique paradox of their County — front oceanfront areas of wealth to more economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. When we visited, we recognized the complexities of this place. We can never resist a good, layered story.

Volusia County is experiencing some of the highest rates of substance use in the state. The team assembled to disrupt these trends. They knew that the status quo approach to substance use prevention wasn't going to cut it. They were also keenly aware of the bias they were likely to face when implementing evidence-based harm reduction interventions, such as medication-assisted treatment or syringe service programs. It wasn't just going to be about educating people experiencing substance use disorder, it was going to have to include the education of decision-makers. 

Navigating Substance Use Treatment and Prevention  

Public sentiment, even when it touches their own family, can lead to stigma. Florida is a tough place to do health communications. Like much of the country, leaders in Florida have to navigate political polarization and contradictory opinions about how best to prevent and treat substance use disorder. But, even in the face of this challenge, the team at Volusia County has assembled a coalition representative of the most compassionate, intelligent folks in the region. 

Most importantly, the team is led by folks who know the struggles of addiction firsthand. When creating the narrative for the Path4Hope campaign, it was important for the team to recognize that everyone has their own recovery journey. Keeping the uniqueness of the human experience at the center of their work allowed the team to create an inclusive atmosphere and grow the collaborative. 

Even though we are a data company, we are storytellers first. And we know there is no story greater than an autobiography — the lived experience is superior. Too often, policies are created in a vacuum, far removed from the people who are affected by the consequences. This makes the work of Path4Hope even more impressive. They are a team who truly lives by the edict, "nothing about us without us."

It's hard to maintain optimism amidst the darkness of substance use disorder while trying to navigate prevention and treatment. But, spend five minutes with the Volusia County team and you’ll realize that the "hope" in Path4Hope isn't just an aspirational word choice. It is a legitimate representation of their beliefs. Their commitment to hope, humanity and the inherent goodness of people is evidenced in their work and their spirit. We are incredibly honored to support their work with our tools. 

You can walk through the interactive Path4Hope dashboard here.

If you are interested in learning more about how mySidewalk supports changemakers, contact us

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