Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers Take Action to Address the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an estimated 130 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses [1]. Nearly 21-29% of patients with opioid prescriptions for chronic pain misuse their medication, which leads to 8-12% of these patients developing an opioid use disorder [2]. The increased use and misuse of opioids has not only led to the use of other drugs such as heroin but to the rise of neonatal abstinence syndrome and spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C [2]. As this public health crisis continues to grow within the U.S., many public health organizations are having to focus their efforts on finding solutions to resolve this crisis.

The HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) program is a national network of local volunteer units that work alongside their communities to improve preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities [3]. NACCHO has a long history of supporting MRC units through capacity building awards, including project based Challenge Awards that aim to build community public health, resiliency, and preparedness. The 2018 MRC Challenge Awards shared below demonstrate how MRC units across the nation are responding to the opioid overdose epidemic.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid Infographic

MRC Units Support Local Health Departments

Missouri Region C North MRC Unit #958 MOMS and Combatting NAS Toolkit

The Missouri Region C North MRC Unit #958 in Troy, Missouri, created an extensive toolkit to address neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). To improve NAS awareness within the community, the unit held trainings geared toward community members, medical providers, and MRC volunteers. The Movement on Medication Safety (MOMS) and Combatting NAS Toolkit includes general opioid information, a reference guide for prescribing opioids, a fact sheet for opioid use during pregnancy, a NAS fact sheet, nonopioid pain management information, etc. These trainings have led to an increase of MRC volunteers, peer-to-peer training on NAS and medication safety, the establishment of new local partnerships, and increased collaboration between the MRC and the Lincoln County Health Department.

The Pomperaug Health District MRC (PHDMRC) Unit #2182 in Southbury, Connecticut, conducted a 6-week evidence-based program called the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program. Workshops provided by MRC volunteers and public health professionals targeted senior community members who may use opioids to manage their chronic health conditions. According to Robin Lucas, PHDMRC Unit Leader, the goal was to “…educate senior residents, caregivers, health providers, volunteer agencies, and preparedness partners about opioid misuse, accidental overdoses, and unintentional falls.” Additionally, attendees learned how to administer naloxone during Senior Health Opioid Awareness and Response (SHOAR) presentations, and a statewide Heroin Education Action Team (HEAT) symposium was held in collaboration with several local, regional, state, and federal entities.

Stamford MRC Unit #1533 volunteers from Stamford, Connecticut, participated in NARCAN train-the-trainer classes with the intention of providing future trainings to other community members. Additionally, the Director of Pain Medicine for Stamford Health worked alongside the Stamford Department of Health to produce two educational opioid videos geared towards doctors and patients: “Doctor’s Guide to Opiate Prescribing” and “Opioid Information for Patients” [4] [5].

The Allegheny County Health Department Unit #144 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, conducted a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) focused on drug overdose awareness in the county. The goal of the CASPER was to assess opioid overdose awareness in a highly burdened area of the county through a survey developed by partners and by distributing educational materials and resource guides for overdose prevention, response, and treatment. Volunteers from the local MRC unit and University of Pittsburgh visited homes within the determined areas (Mt. Washington, Southside, and Mt. Oliver) to ask participants questions regarding their perception of the opioid crisis, knowledge of opioids, awareness of naloxone, awareness of signs and symptoms of overdose, overdose response, and drug and alcohol treatment facilities. Over the course of four days, 100 surveys were completed (14% completion rate). After analyzing the survey results, the Allegheny County Health Department hosted a community meeting in Mt. Oliver to discuss the results and offer basic CPR and NARCAN training. A NARCAN giveaway day was also scheduled to distribute kits to community members around the county - 930 kits were handed out that day. Since the CASPER was conducted, additional trainings have been offered for community members and a small-scale CASPER took place in another highly burdened area (Etna, Millvale, and Sharpsburg).

Allegheny County Health Department Unit #144 Volunteers Discuss the Day's Activities

Stamford MRC Unit #1533 Volunteers Involved in NARCAN Training


Shanlynn Bias, MPH, NACCHO Program Analyst


[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?” 2019. <>

[2] National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” 2019. <>

[3] National Association of County and City Health Officials. “Medical Reserve Corps.” 2019. <>

[4] Stamford Department of Health. “Doctor’s Guide to Opiate Prescribing.” 2019. <>

[5] Stamford Department of Health. “Opioid Information for Patients.” 2019. <>