The START-SD team from South Dakota State University hosted a first responder summit Aug. 25 in Chamberlain.
The free event, “First Responder Summit: Addiction and Mental Health in South Dakota,” was an opportunity for health care professionals and first responders to learn more about mental health as it relates to addiction and substance use disorder and the important role that first responders play.
Thirty-two individuals attended and participated in events including a keynote speaker, a panel discussion, an interactive lunch session, a patient testimonial and a session on peer recovery.
The event was hosted by SDSU’s START-SD program. START-SD—which stands for Stigma, Treatment, Avoidance and Recovery in time for South Dakota—is a federal grant-funded program that has been working to combat substance use disorder in South Dakota since 2019.
Erin Miller, program director for START-SD, explained why first responders are important not only in emergency situations, but for the overall health of individuals with substance use disorder.
“First responders are sometimes the people that have the first and/or most frequent contact with those struggling with mental health issues, including addiction. ... The interaction with individuals struggling with mental health and addiction issues can also have a big impact on whether or not an individual seeks treatment.”
The event began with a presentation from keynote speaker Amanda Reed. Reed is a licensed clinical psychologist in Sioux Falls. Her presentation, “Traumatic Stress and Emergency Services,” provided an overview of traumatic stress, what it looks like, and its behavioral, emotional and physiological effects.
Following the keynote, a panel discussion on care coordination in South Dakota was held. Panel members included Betsy Schuster, vice president of program development at the Helpline Center; Noreen Plumage, director of problem-solving courts for South Dakota; Randee Peterson, substance use disorder program manager for the South Dakota Department of Social Services; and Rebecca Brown, adult diversion coordinator for Minnehaha County.
The interactive lunch session featured Officer Donnie Varnell talking about “Barbecue and Sweet Tea: the challenging role of law enforcement in the opioid crisis and building partnerships with public health.” His talk included a discussion of his evolving viewpoints as an officer regarding substance use, as well as ways law enforcement and organizations can work together.
Lunch was followed by a patient testimonial, “The Reality of Addiction: A Patient’s Experience.”
Finally, individuals from Face It TOGETHER, an addiction treatment center, gave a talk, “Using Peer Coaching to Improve Patient Outcomes.”
Irene Arango Gomez, community care coordinator for the START-SD program, explained an important reason for the summit.
“The First Responder Summit showed that although there are many great individuals working on the topic of addiction and mental health, we still have much to learn and do. Becoming aware of one another and the work that we do is a key step,” Arango Gomez said.
“Understanding who else is out there and being able to work with one another and utilize each other so we are not duplicating resources is important in ensuring we can properly assist those in the community.”
Miller added, “When working to improve the lives of those struggling from mental health disorders, it takes a team. The summit is a way to bring people together from a variety of expertise areas to share perspectives and approaches so that we can work together better.”
Arango Gomez added that the public can also play a key role in addressing addiction and mental health by helping to fight stigma.
“It's difficult to understand a person's situation when we ourselves have not lived through it. Breaking down stigmas is a great way that we can help address substance use and mental health in South Dakota. Continuing to be compassionate to one another, lending a helping hand either directly or indirectly and being an advocate are all great ways to help address substance use and/or mental health in our state.”