USciences Faculty Bring Lessons from the Front Lines of Opioid Crisis to the Classroom

Written by Jenna Pizzi
Published on March 15, 2017

Three representatives from USciences were tabbed to serve on subcommittees for The Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia, sharing their expertise regarding the impacts of the epidemic, while also gaining valuable experience to bring back to the classroom as they guide the next group of healthcare professionals.

Dr. George Downs“Heroin and fentanyl have become a serious public health issue in Philadelphia,” said George Downs, PharmD, professor of clinical pharmacy and dean emeritus of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, who also teaches a course on substance abuse and serves on the Public Education and Prevention Strategies Subcommittee. “Anything that we can do to assist in reducing the misuse of opioids will be of value. This is not a one person issue and all of us must collaborate to deal with the problem.”

The task force was convened in January to identify both short and long-term solutions that will end the opioid crisis which is projected to have led to 840 overdose deaths in 2016 in Philadelphia. Co-chaired by Arthur Evans, Jr., PhD, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, and Commissioner of Health Dr. Thomas Farley, the task force brings together a broad cross-section of stakeholders who are affected by the epidemic.

“It is my hope that the outcomes of our efforts are policies and initiatives which will reduce overdose and associated harmful health and social impacts of opioid use,” said Amy Jessop, PhD, MPH, associate professor of health policy and public health, and a board member of Prevention Point Philadelphia. Dr. Jessop said that the Data Analysis and Sharing Subcommittee on which she is a member includes people whose expertise and perspective on the issues differ, thus providing invaluable real-world ideas to address the crisis.

The subcommittees have revealed the need for more rehabilitation beds that can be made available to those who are ready and seeking help, said Dr. Downs. In general, he said, there should be a re-set in the way doctors treat addiction, thinking about it more as a disease then a choice.

Gail Groves ScottEvidence-based treatments such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone given alongside quality psychosocial supports should be made available to patients, including those in jail, on probation or parole, or in drug courts, said Gail Groves Scott, MPH’16, a health policy fellow in addiction studies at USciences Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy, and who is on the Justice System, Law Enforcement, and First Responders Subcommittee.

“We can’t keep doing just what we have been doing,” said Scott. “We are hearing from the community and other stakeholders that this crisis calls for some bold choices which could include implementing controversial measures, like opening ‘safe sites’ where people can go, even if they are still consuming illicit substances, where providers can engage in overdose prevention and provide social supports.”

 The committee finalized its recommendations in a report released in May. But even before then, Dr. Jessop, Dr. Downs, and Scott were already applying the lessons learned through their participation in the classroom.

“This experience on the task force subcommittee has allowed me to share real-time epidemiologic data and the policy development process with my students,” said Dr. Jessop.

Dr. Amy JessopDr. Downs has made connections with several of the fellow committee members, creating partnerships and opportunities for students to get involved.

All of USciences’ pharmacy students are taught about how to administer naloxone and how to counsel individuals on its proper use to stop a drug overdose. Through partnerships, Dr. Downs said he hopes to expand this effort with Generation RX and by working with Prevention Point Philadelphia to team up in convincing pharmacies to stock the drug, which is supposed to be available to anyone in Pennsylvania who requests it, even without a prescription. 

“This spring our students will be going around to various pharmacies to talk with pharmacists about providing naloxone in an effort to address their concerns,” said Dr. Downs. “It is a complex topic and there is no easy answer, however, by talking through the issues, we hope to increase the availability of this life-saving drug.”

Scott, who is leading the University’s addiction studies work, said the task force has shown her where there are gaps in knowledge and research regarding interventions.

“By expanding our efforts to educate healthcare providers about substance use disorders and perhaps the intersection with pain management, we can provide more continuing education programming about the new guidelines and regulations regarding prescribing or dispensing opioids and overdose prevention medications,” said Scott.

Categories: Feature Story, News, Faculty, Community, Academics, Mayes College, Department of Health Policy and Public Health, Public Health, Health Policy, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Pharmacy

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