Substance Use Discussed at Regional Overdose Prevention Coalition Conference

By Colby Gallagher

Published on March 14, 2019

Regional Overdose Prevention Coalition ConferenceOn March 7, dozens of experts in substance use disorders met at USciences for the Regional Overdose Prevention Coalition Conference to talk about the diverse array of issues surrounding the issue.

The conference was split into portions that varied from legislative issues and law enforcement to a panel discussion on recovery, survivorship, and stigma.

On the panel was Robert Ashford PhD’24 (health policy), Patty DiRenzo, linkage coordinator at the Office of Mental Health & Addiction in Camden County, NJ, and Kimberly McLaughlin, program director of Maternal Addiction Treatment Education and Research (MATER) of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.

Ashford spoke about his personal struggle with substance use disorder and how a lack of recovery scientists led him to begin researching more, leading him to USciences where he is a researcher at the Substance Use Disorders Institute. DiRenzo, too, shared a personal connection through the loss of her son, Sal, to a heroin overdose in 2010. Those person experiences were key for the panel as they fielded questions from the audience, many of them about the stigma attached to addition. DiRenzo is part of a support group in Camden County created specifically for parents whose child died from an overdose; she said this is crucial after finding that people were supportive until they learned how Sal died, then their reaction changed.Panelists speak at the Regional Overdose Prevention Coalition Conference

Despite their different backgrounds and relation to substance use disorder, all three panelists agreed on one thing: the tough love response is not the way to deal with someone who’s in the throes of substance use disorder. Ashford passionately told attendees not only does evidence support other methods of response, but tough love should be done away with altogether.

The panelists also discussed treatment and the fact that it differs based on where an individual lives. DiRenzo’s son was unable to be admitted into an inpatient facility until she said he was using alcohol; he was then admitted for only 17 days and told family members he wasn’t ready to leave when it was over. Ashford, who received treatment in Texas, said he was able to spend 42 days in an inpatient facility.

Since McLaughlin deals with a lot of mothers and expectant mothers, she spoke about the fear many have when seeking treatment. While many women want to get help, she said they’re more fearful that admitting to their substance use disorder will result in the immediate loss of their children.

Another takeaway from the panel was the desire to have individuals with substance use disorder more involved in the decision-making process. Ashford said he has been in recovery for six years, making him unable to speak to the issues of current substance users as well as someone who currently uses. He said it's important to have both people in recovery and those who currently use providing input.

Following the panel, experts broke out into groups to delve deeper into certain issues.At the conclusion of the conference, they reported their findings which they will  take back to their respective organizations as they continue to address this serious and complex issue.

Categories: News, Substance Use Disorders Institute, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Health Policy, USciences, Conference