Celebrate Recovery at Park Hill, a sector of a nationwide religious recovery program, hosted a community forum to discuss the opioid epidemic on October 15, 2018 in North Little Rock, Arkansas inside Park Hill Baptist Church. The event was titled Opioid Crisis: The Ripple Effect.
Problems and Purpose
Though many Americans are suffering or know someone that suffers from an opioid addiction, it is still a delicate topic to discuss in public because of its unfortunate stigma. In October 2018, Celebrate Recovery at Park Hill provided citizens in central Arkansas with an open, accepting space to talk about their concerns regarding the issue. Other purposes of the event included assistance with sense-making for participants, informing participants about the current policies, and connecting participants to services in the area. Sense-making allows humans to make sense of their world (Dervin & Foreman-Wernet, 2003). Many people who are experiencing addiction do not know the steps that are needed in order to combat their problem; this event was designed to lead participants to potential solutions (Dervin & Foreman-Wernet, 2003). To inform participants, Celebrate Recovery organized a panel of professionals ranging from law enforcement personnel to medical professionals to educate citizens about the current policies and atmosphere surrounding the topic in the community. To connect participants to services in the area, Celebrate Recovery asked different service providers around the community to set up tables at their event and have a representative present to offer help and answer questions. These booths were available for event attendees to peruse before and after the event, providing them or their family members with tools they could utilize in their journey towards recovery.
Background History and Context
The number of deaths in the United States caused by opioids is increasing at an alarming rate. Rudd, Aleshire, Zibbell, & Gladden found that “from 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses,” most of these by opioids (2016 p. 1324).
Arkansas is number two in the United States for over-prescribing opioid medications; the state has a rate of 114.6 opioid prescriptions per 100 people (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). There are more prescriptions in Arkansas than there are people.
Park Hill Baptist Church has held community forums before, but it is not a frequent occurrence. They were inspired to hold this event for the reasons above and for personal reasons. One of the Celebrate Recovery at Park Hill staff members had a close friend pass away from an opioid addiction and was motivated to take action.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The event was organized and funded by Celebrate Recovery at Park Hill and Park Hill Baptist Church. Donations were also provided by Chick-fil-a.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The event process consisted of “one-way” and “two-way” communication, which was made up of individual speakers and a group of panelists, some of which overlapped into both categories (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015, p. 248). The educational speakers and panelists (of which there were eight) were chosen by Celebrate Recovery because of their professional credentials and work in the community regarding the issue; these speakers were from the government, medical field, law enforcement, and religious sectors. They wanted a wide array of speakers to discuss this massive problem from many different angles. There were also speakers (of which there were two) that told personal stories. These specific people were chosen because of their personal involvement with the issue and their connections to the staff members within the organization. There were approximately 120 people in attendance that were mainly recruited by broadcasting announcements through the media, which included event pages on Facebook and Eventbrite (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015).
Methods and Tools Used
Before the event occurred, participants were able to anonymously submit any questions they had about the topic that would be answered by the panelists at the event. During the event, which was in person, attendees were provided with information sheets about the issue along with a list of online articles to continue their research. Exhibitors were also present before, during, and after the event to gently provide verbal and written information about their specific services to anyone in need.
The one-way communication was used during the first half of the event with the purpose of informing the citizens (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). This was done with the sharing of personal stories and the telling of facts and current policies concerning the issue. Several speakers also spoke about the actions being taken in central Arkansas to combat the problem.
The second section of the event involved two-way communication with a goal to include the participants in on the discussion (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). A facilitator guided the discussion as panelists answered pre-submitted, anonymous questions as well as live questions from the audience.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The event was designed for thin participation, which allowed attendees to voice their questions and concerns, but only for a short amount of time and only in the second section of the event (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). This second section included a face to face question and answer session that was guided by a facilitator. No decisions were made throughout the process.
According to the public participation spectrum, this event was at a level two: consult (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). With the public participation spectrum, the higher the level, the increased ability the public has in the decision making process, with the highest level being five (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). Level one of the public participation spectrum is to inform the public, which is to educate the public on an issue without hearing feedback (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). Level two, which is what this event entailed, is to consult, meaning that the event organizers received feedback from the public and acknowledged their concerns (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015). Though the input of the participants was genuinely received and acknowledged, it was not used to make any immediate decisions. Current policies were discussed throughout the event by the chosen speakers, but there was no talk about future policies. Instead, speakers emphasized that participants take action in their own lives.
The opioid epidemic is a very high stakes issue in the community. In fact, many of the attendees had lost family or friends due to an opioid addiction, so there was a large potential for volatile speech or actions to occur during the event, but this did not happen. The conversation was handled with care and professionalism by the facilitator and panelists. When certain attendees were overcome with emotion, the facilitator and panelists responded with respect, empathy, and understanding. After the event was over, the conversation continued by certain participants and speakers in the form of small and uncoerced groupings.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The event achieved all of the designated purposes for the event. Celebrate Recovery created a safe space for community members to talk about the issue in public, they helped participants with sense-making regarding the issue, they informed them about the current policies in the area, and they connected them to people and resources in the area.
Since this topic is rarely discussed openly in public because of its sensitivity and stigma, creating a space to speak about the issue was an achievement in and of itself. By hosting the event, Celebrate Recovery helped to normalize the topic in the community and connect participants to informal support groups and formal methods of services for assistance with these issues.
A large outcome of the event was that personal storytellers and professional speakers encouraged citizens to take action in their own lives. They encouraged the participants to be unafraid when speaking about the issue in public, seek help if and when it is needed, ask questions, and connect with others experiencing the same issues to develop a support community. Celebrate Recovery successfully designed the event to allow participants to take immediate action towards these goals. To inspire participants to seek help, Celebrate Recovery had exhibitors present describing their services; those present included but were not limited to mental health professionals, counselors, and addiction help groups. To encourage participants to ask questions, Celebrate Recovery provided participants with a handout titled “12 Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Taking Opioids,” made by shatterproof.org, which is a non-profit dedicated to ending addiction causes.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Overall, the event was very successful in accomplishing its goals. The participatory section was very well executed because of the tools used, which included effective facilitation and the online, anonymous questions that participants were able to submit beforehand that allowed participants to enter questions without the fear of embarrassment. In fact, most participants wanted to stay at the event longer to ask more questions, but the event had to end on schedule because of staff constraints. The opioid epidemic is a very sensitive, large, and daunting issue of our time, but Celebrate Recovery played a wonderful role in shining a light of positivity and hope around the topic in central Arkansas.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). U.S. State Prescribing Rates, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/maps/rxstate2016.html [Interactive United States map that shows the estimated rate of opioid prescriptions per year per 100 U.S. residents].
Dervin, B., & Foreman-Wernet, L. (2003). Sense-making methodology read: Selected writing of Brenda Dervin. Hampton Press: Cresskill, NJ.
Nabatchi T., & Leighninger, M. (2015). Public participation for 21st century democracy. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Rudd R.A., Aleshire N., Zibbell J.E. & Matthew Gladden R. (2016). Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths—United States, 2000–2014. American Journal of Transplantation, 16:
The original submission of this case entry was written by Molly Emerson, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.