Auburn’s COACH seeks to address opioid crisis through collaboration and education

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The Harrison College of Pharmacy’s Center for Opioid Research, Education and Outreach, or COACH, is active in working with leaders and professionals across the state in combatting the opioid crisis.

The work of COACH has revealed there is no singular solution to the opioid problem and that collaboration and education are needed to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds to best address the issue.

The team has accomplished this through a series of town hall programs across the state, as well as co-hosting the 2023 Substance Misuse Summit with the Alabama Department of Public Health, or ADPH. Events such as these bring law enforcement, medical professionals, first responders, community leaders and others together in one forum to identify ways they can work together to combat the crisis.

With the 2023 summit on the horizon, Brent Fox, one of the summit organizers and a professor in the college’s Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, discusses current events and new initiatives related to the opioid crisis.

You are part of a team that recently received support from the ADPH to deliver educational programming related to the opioid epidemic. Why are educational programs like this important?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic was the greatest public health threat in this country. Unfortunately, substance use disorders and overdoses increased during the pandemic. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must refocus our attention on this epidemic.

One component involved town halls, including continuing education credit, for health care professionals on the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP. What is the PDMP, and how is it a useful tool in learning more about the problem and combatting it?

The PDMP is an online database of controlled substances, including opioids, that have been dispensed to patients pursuant to a prescription. Currently, each state manages and maintains a statewide PDMP. However, many states, including Alabama, can view PDMP data from other states.

At its core, the PDMP is useful because it provides prescribers and pharmacists with current dispensing histories for their patients. These health care professionals can then make informed decisions regarding their patients’ care. This includes identifying patients whose use of opioids and other controlled substances warrants further inquiry.

What are some things health care providers are surprised to learn about the PDMP?

A relatively recent development allows prescribers and pharmacists to integrate the PDMP into their existing computer systems, where they document their clinical activities. This integration eliminates the need for health care professionals to leave their clinical software system to access the PDMP through their web browser. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health currently has funding to cover the monthly fee charged by the PDMP software vendor. Many health care professionals are not aware of this funding.

When learning about the PDMP, why is it important to have prescribers and pharmacists together and part of the discussion?

Prescribers and pharmacists share responsibility for their patients’ care. However, busy work environments in different locations and settings limit their interactions and communication with each other regarding the patient.

In the context of opioids and other controlled substances, the PDMP can bridge the gap when health care providers have limited ability to communicate about a patient’s medication therapy.

The second component of the program is a summit on Feb. 3. Who is invited to learn more about participating in the summit?

The summit, sponsored by the Alabama Department of Public Health, is an interdisciplinary, knowledge-based program open to virtually anyone who plays a role in the fight against substance use disorders, including opioids.

Attendees from the following disciplines will receive continuing education credit for attending the summit: mental health professionals, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, physicians, physician assistants, dentists and social workers. Other professions invited to the summit include law enforcement, community leaders and school counselors.

What is the theme or primary message you all hope to communicate during this year’s summit?

Our 2023 theme centers around both current and emerging issues related to substance misuse in Alabama. We will emphasize that no one individual or profession can tackle the substance misuse problem in our state.

It is a multi-dimensional problem requiring an interdisciplinary solution. Alabamians should collaborate with one another based on their individual experiences, content knowledge and available resources to tackle this crisis.

Why is it important to have representatives from these various groups participate in the summit?

We learned during the pandemic that there is value in being in the same room when addressing complex issues. The summit will provide a forum for a diverse group of stakeholders to engage in an open dialogue regarding current issues and potential solutions.

For someone who attends, what do you hope they take away from the experience?

Individuals from all walks of life and professions are working to combat this crisis and make a difference in the lives of those struggling with substance use disorders. It is important for these individuals to share their experiences and to learn about available resources to assist those living with substance use disorders.

What are some new topics that will be addressed during the summit?

The entire day will address timely topics relevant for attendees. In terms of topics that are emerging, as Alabama has recently passed legislation legalizing the use of medical marijuana in certain circumstances, we felt it pertinent to include this topic during this year’s summit.

Other topics include updates from state leaders regarding state challenges and priorities and documentation strategies and tools to ensure patient safety and improve communication between providers.

Additionally, fentanyl remains a critically important issue throughout the state. We have two sessions related to fentanyl trends and impact, as well as test strip distribution programs.

More Information To arrange an interview with our experts, contact Preston Sparks, director of university communications services, at

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