About 15 community leaders met Wednesday afternoon at Dakota Wesleyan University to discuss the effects opioids have had on the area.

The meeting was the first for Mitchell's Community Opioid Abuse Response Effort (COARE): Local Leadership Prescription for Action, an initiative funded by federal grants and in the works across the country, including efforts by the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDAHO).

Cindy Schuch, improvement advisor for SDAHO, told The Daily Republic on Wednesday that in the six months since COARE launched, six or seven communities across the state have gotten involved, and more than 10 communities altogether may soon see similar efforts.

When planning to get leaders from the Mitchell area together, Schuch contacted Joel Reinesch, an assistant professor of criminal justice at DWU and a former sergeant with the Mitchell Police Division, having seen the response to an opioid epidemic panel hosted by the university in January.

“Obviously, this is an issue, not just in Mitchell or even South Dakota. It’s a nationwide issue," Reinesch said. "It’s something that definitely catches headlines; it’s definitely something that you see in the political cycles. Everybody from the president all the way down to your local legislators, they’re all talking about this.”

According to data from the South Dakota Departments of Health and Social Services, there were 305 opioid-related deaths in South Dakota between 2008 and 2017, with the number of deaths per year steadily increasing. In 2016 and 2017, South Dakotans were found to be more likely than the national rate to misuse prescription pain relievers, but slightly less likely than the national average to use heroin.

Wednesday's meeting, which was attended by people in law enforcement, mental health care, physical therapy, education, local and state government and more, was primarily intended for planning purposes and getting organized, Reinesch said. The meeting was not open to the public.

"We just opened up dialogue in regards to what is available, what resources we have in the community," Schuch said. "And the stakeholders that were present talked a little bit about potential issues they've seen or gaps they've seen in the resources available."

Prior to the meeting, Reinesch said he, Schuch and Davison County Deputy State's Attorney Bob O'Keefe invited between 35 and 40 people to attend. A followup survey will be sent to those who attended to evaluate their interest in ongoing work in the community.