Auburn University, Alabama Department of Mental Health partner to train others statewide in fight against opioids

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Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy and the Alabama Department of Mental Health have joined forces in the battle against opioids, creating the Opioid Training Institute.

In 2017, there were 422 overdose deaths involving either prescription or illicit drugs in Alabama, an average of more than one per day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The Opioid Training Institute addresses this crisis in a series of 16 one-day, free training programs spanning the state from May through September. The programs are divided evenly with eight aimed at health care professionals, such as physicians, pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists and veterinarians; and eight focused on community members, such as educators, social workers, guidance counselors, behavioral health specialists, counselors, faith-based community leaders, state and local leaders and law enforcement.

“We know that many factors led to Alabama’s unfortunate position as a leader in opioid use in the United States. Accordingly, we know that a variety of strategies are necessary to address the opioid problem in Alabama,” said Brent Fox, associate professor with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “The Opioid Training Institute will allow us to convene a diverse group of experiences, expertise and perspectives to advance the fight against opioids in our state.”

The opioid epidemic is one that knows no neighborhood, class or age and impacts every sector of the state, including health care, education, business and local government. Opioids are a class of drugs that includes heroin, as well as prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and fentanyl. These drugs work by binding to the body’s opioid receptors in the reward center of the brain, diminishing pain as well as producing feelings of relaxation and euphoria.

Because of the variety of uses, one could come into contact with opioids from street drugs to prescription drugs. The problem is one that affects all socioeconomic statuses. It is for this reason that such a broad spectrum of people, from health care to law enforcement to leaders in the community, are needed to fight the problem.

“Opioid use disorder impacts those from the teen years to the older populations in our state. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses and in Alabama we see the need for education to reach everyone that may have the power to evoke change for our communities,” said Karen Marlowe, assistant dean of the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “Understanding the risk factors for opioid use disorder and overdose in your school, community and place of worship may help someone to connect with the appropriate resources in their community. We also hope to start more conversations across different professions to share information about programs that already exist in communities across the state.”

The programs begin May 20-21 with sessions for community members in Birmingham. Other stops around the state include Mobile/Baldwin County, Huntsville, Cullman, Montgomery, Auburn, Dothan, Troy and Tuscaloosa.

All sessions are free and preregistration is preferred. Speakers at the events include those from health care, law enforcement, government agencies and others. For health care professionals, continuing education credit is available.

“Mental health is an important piece in the fight against the opioid crisis and partnering with the Alabama Department of Mental Health allows us to combine our areas of expertise and have a greater reach in the state of Alabama,” said Haley Phillippe, associate clinical professor with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “We are very thankful for the opportunity to work with ADMH.”

For more information and registration, visit

Opioid Training Institute Dates and Locations

Community Members

May 20-21: Birmingham, Hilton at UAB

July 23: Huntsville, Jackson Center

July 24: Cullman, Cullman Civic Center

July 29: Montgomery, Hilton Garden Inn at EastChase

July 30: Opelika, Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort and Spa at Grand National

Aug. 1: Dothan, Windmill Station

Aug. 2: Mobile, The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa

Health Care Professionals

June 18-19: Mobile/Baldwin County, The Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa

June 26-27: Huntsville, Jackson Center

Sept. 11: Troy, Sportsplex

Sept. 12: Opelika, Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort and Spa at Grand National

Sept. 18: Tuscaloosa, Bryant Conference Center

Sept. 19: Birmingham, Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel

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, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation 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.