Auburn University and ADPH battle opioid crisis through interprofessional conference

Published: March 28, 2019
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Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The crisis is one that touches people from all walks of life, reaching every demographic and socio-economic status.

Finding a solution to such a large problem requires an even bigger united effort between those involved in it. It is with that mindset that faculty from Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy and the Alabama Department of Public Health created the Conquering the Crisis: Fighting Substance Abuse in Alabama conference in 2017.

“Alabama’s opioid crisis continues,” said Dr. Haley Phillippe, associate clinical professor with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “These conferences offer opportunities for bringing awareness to the opioid crisis, gaining knowledge related to opioid use disorder, as well as networking with a diverse group of health care professionals and community members.”

Now in its third year, the conference has reached nearly every part of the state of Alabama, reaching Montgomery and Huntsville in 2017, Dothan, Mobile, Birmingham and Florence in 2018, and return trips to Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery in 2019. Additionally, the conference reached out to a broad spectrum of professionals to reach all those who are involved in the opioid crisis. Spanning physicians, pharmacists, nurses, first responders, law enforcement, social workers, educators and many more.

The goal of the conference was to bring people from these various professions together to learn more about the problem and how they can work together to develop solutions and ways of working to help combat the problem.

“It took a long time to get where we are with the problem, so it is not something we are going to solve quickly because we are talking about people that are professionals changing what they do,” said Dr. Brent Fox, an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “It is almost a continuous evolution of education to reflect how we are learning more about the problem, but also we are learning that one solution that we propose may cause another problem. We are still trying to bring folks together, talk about the problem, talk about solutions and then talk about how those solutions may or may not impact someone else.”

The reason for bringing so many people together in these conferences has been the scope of the problem. A person battling an opioid addiction will encounter a myriad of people from health care providers to counselors and, at times, law enforcement and first responders. Knowing how each other interacts with those battling an addiction can help develop a collaborative effort to offer assistance and treatment.

“The scope of the problem has been really surprising,” said Fox. “The persistence of the problem, such as at the individual level where someone may have an opioid addiction, they get treatment and then they come out and they face those same challenges again and they relapse. The scope, the persistence of the problem and the lack of resources available, not just in Alabama but nationwide, to address the problem have been an eye-opener.”

As the conference has evolved over the three years, the focus has specifically targeted those in health care fields to develop collaborative processes to address the problem.

“Our first series of conferences focused on bringing awareness to Alabamians and encouraging Alabamians to work outside their silos and our second series continued to build on these principles and included more specific drug information and tactics for successful communication,” said Phillippe. “Now, on our third series, we are focused on appropriate pain management and treatment solutions for opioid use disorder. Each conference continues to build on the previous; however, we attempt to keep them relevant to both new and returning attendees.”

General topics addressed in the 2019 conference include pain management vs. diversion, communication, treatment solutions and resources, and information on the prescription drug-monitoring program, or PDMP. Speakers include Dr. Jeremy Johnson, a physician with UAB-Huntsville Family Medicine; Dr. Timothy Atkinson, a clinical pharmacy specialist in pain management and owner of Vanguard Pain Management Consulting in Nashville, Tennessee; Dr. Karen Marlowe, assistant dean with the Harrison School of Pharmacy; Dr. Lori Lioce, a clinical associate professor in nursing at the University of Alabama-Huntsville; and Dr. Mitchell Mutter, director of special projects with the Tennessee Department of Health. Additionally, Fox and Phillippe are on the program committee.

“With the presenters, their training and their practice is very specialized on this topic. They are very focused on this and they live it every day and they have that insight that only comes from living in it every day,” said Fox. “What we are trying to do is continue the dialogue between the different groups that need to be involved in the discussions. Continue the dialogue, reach the people, and more broadly we are just trying to move that needle a little bit more to where people are aware of their role in addressing the problem and aware of how they can start addressing the problem on a daily or patient-by-patient basis.”

As the conference has progressed, Phillippe, who is serving as the principle investigator on this project, is encouraged by the continued participation and expansion of participation from those around the state.

“It is exciting to see how many repeat attendees we see each year,” said Phillippe. “Many repeat attendees bring friends or co-workers with them. Some have closed their practice the day of the program to ensure all providers and staff can attend. This is a great testament to the importance of the opioid crisis to providers and community members.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.