Alison Newman: Combating opioid overdoses in Humboldt County

By Abby Martinez
Flapjack staff

Alison Newman is the senior health education specialist at Humboldt County Health Department who works hard to prevent people from dying from opioid overdoses.

Newman works to reduce the amount of overdoses throughout the county. Humboldt County is often three times higher in deaths relating to drugs than the over all California’s percentage, Newman noted. Recently, she’s been working to help promote the distribution of Narcan, an opioid antidote.

“It’s really important to work with in this area,” said Newman. “Like many rural areas we have difficulties with health care, they’re often far from doctors and ERs. So if we have Narcan, we save lives.”

Not too long ago Newman’s job in the community gained much attention after she was able to complete training with Arcata Police Department and surrounding community members on how to appropriately give Narcan to a person overdosing. A couple days after training a local librarian, a man overdosing in a library was revived after the librarian gave a dose of Narcan.

Newman relocated to Humboldt County in 2013 from Vermont, which is where she grew up.

At a young age Newman had expressed lots of interest in working to help others. Newman’s mother Susan Choke describes how much of an interest she had in helping.

“Alison has always been a big helper,” said Choke. “When she was little she would go around the park and picking up cigarette buds trying to keep the park clean.”

Newman’s need to help others continued to follow her later down the road. Her professional journey began in 2000 when she attended George Washington University in D.C. where she studied anthropology.

“ I love learning about people and cultures,” said Newman. “That’s why I chose anthropology.”

Newman’s love for learning about different cultures led her to do her internship work in Guatemala in a program called WINGS. The program aimed to bring attention to cervical cancer screening and early family planning. This influenced Newman into wanting to peruse a degree that focused more on public health.

“I found that anthropology wasn’t prismatic enough and the work was too theoretical,” said Newman. “I wanted to work helping people and trying to make a change so people have more options in their lives.”

Not only did Newman’s work abroad influence her to pursue a degree in public health. During her time in college Newman’s mother was in a big accident with a semi truck. Newman’s mother has since not been able to walk without the assistance of crutches and has suffered from health problems.

“Seeing how health can affect someone and everything in their life is very powerful,” said Newman.

In 2006, Newman decided to apply to graduate school for a masters in public health. She was then admitted into Oregon State University where she focused her Masters in International Health. During her time at Oregon State, she was able to take part in providing assistance with research promoting public health with the University of Gondar in Ethiopia. Towards the end of her masters, Newman decided to apply for a Fulbright Scholar position. Through Fulbright, she was able to travel to Sri Lanka where she helped the rural area with maternal health.

Although Newman was able to do many things her journey with public health was just starting. In 2010 Newman was able to begin working with the Department of Health in Vermont.

“She started working in Vermont,” said Choke. “She was working with the Hepatitis C testing program and also with HIV and STIs education and prevention.”

Through her work she found one of the many reasons Hepatitis C and HIV infections where common in her rural town in Vermont, it was intravenous drug use. During her time there she oversaw three of the syringe exchange programs where she learned many effective ways to help rural areas with IV drug users.

Given the nature of Humboldt County and the rise of the overdose deaths concerning drug use Newman saw the opportunity to then apply to this area in 2013.

“She has always loved the outdoors,” said Choke. “She saw the opportunity to work in Humboldt County and she took it.”

Grace Brosnahan works with Newman in the public health department.

“What [Newman] does is great,” said Brosnahan. “She works really hard for this community and agency. We’re in a better place ever since she’s been here. She cares about our county, people who usually come to our county don’t really care because their not going to stay here for long.”

Although Newman’s work has been significantly known through out the area and has been able to achieve many things to help our community, she said there is still much work to be done.

“We don’t have many access to jobs and other things to help people not take part in opioid use,” said Newman.

But Newman keeps an important goal in mind.

“ It’s important to keep everyone in our community as healthy as possible,” said Newman. “No matter what their life situation is.”

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