George Mason University and SAMHSA Collaborate to Combat Opioid Epidemic
Formed Families Forward was pleased to attend an October 24 conference to learn more about the causes and treatment of opioid addiction in Virginia. Whitney Emerson, FFF Training Coordinator, shared this report.
It is estimated that approximately 2.1 million people suffer from opioid addiction in the United States, leading to related deaths about every 20 minutes. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is working with George Mason University to change that. “Evolution of the Opioid Epidemic: Key Perspectives and Response Strategies” was the title of a conference on the issue held at George Mason on Friday, October 24. Secretary William Hazel, Jr., MD of the Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources presented the keynote address.
Secretary Hazel explained that in the United States we lose more people to the effects of opioid addiction every year than we do to car accidents and gun violence. He stated that while there are social determinants such as employment status, level of education and peer influence which suggest an increased risk for abuse of painkillers, addiction often begins with a visit to the doctor.
Doctors wishing to help a patient manage their pain may unwittingly serve as the addicts’ first provider of the drug. Perception is that if it is legal, it must be safe. He explained that a cultural shift to the idea that other methods of pain management are preferable, a reduction in the number of prescriptions, and focusing on prevention programs within local communities with an emphasis on peer engagement is needed. In addition, working within the medical community and with insurance companies to develop and support a system of realistic, effective treatment would go a long way toward helping those affected recover.
Secretary Hazel pointed out that seeking treatment for addiction is expensive, preventing many patients from seeking help. Medicaid Services Waivers for Addition and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) are available for those registered for Medicaid, but 90% of patients won’t get them – and the Secretary is calling for Medicaid expansion.
A new and innovative program at George Mason aims to train students, faculty and community partners in the ‘Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment’ (SBIRT) method of assisting those with addition. Funded by SAMHSA, this three year program seeks to educate medical professionals on the process through infusion into Mason’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum, training and community engagement. The primary goal is then to bring the method local clinics and recovery centers beginning with Northern Virginia and the area of the Shenandoah Valley. The program’s first year was a great success with 956 students completing the training in the first year. George Mason will begin year two of the program with it’s scheduled training on November 14. Lora Peppard, the Director of the Virginia and Mason SBIRT Projects, served as host of the well attended event and talked of the project’s success and vision for the future.
Joe Hyde, SBIRT Technical Expert lead for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of SAMHSA also presented – giving a brief history of opioid abuse and how the SBIRT program hopes to change the narrative. He spoke of the five “A’s” of prevention and treatment of addiction: advocacy, access, appropriate care, ability and accountability.
During his address, Secretary Hazel urged the audience to read “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” by Michael Botticelli, US Drug Czar, for further information on the opioid epidemic in the United States.