Where Can We Do the Most Good? Duke Team Seeks Solutions to the Opioid Crisis

November 2, 2017

With four in five new heroin users starting out with prescription painkillers, the path to opioid abuse often begins with legal pills. And drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

On October 17, Duke in DC hosted a half-day forum on the opioid crisis aimed at congressional staffers. The program was the second installment of Beyond Talking Points, an off-the-record seminar series tackling upcoming legislative issues.

Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, one of the faculty leaders of the Bass Connections project team Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach, began the forum with a presentation on the biological mechanisms of addiction and overdose. Her student team members helped put together the material. Jon Zibbell of RTI joined Schramm-Sapyta for a discussion on trends, reactions and the science behind the opioid epidemic.

In an interview with Duke in DC staff after the forum, Schramm-Sapyta discussed the nuances of addiction as a complex phenomenon.

“The opioid epidemic in particular has a biological side to it because opioids are so physically addictive,” Schramm-Sapyta said. “When people start taking them, they develop tolerance and withdrawal that makes them need and want to take more and more.

“For all forms of addiction, we need psychosocial treatment,” she continued. “We need to treat the underlying psychological causes of addiction. People who are depressed, people who are anxious, people with untreated ADHD are all more likely to develop addiction when they experiment with a drug of abuse. We’ve got to treat that underlying psychopathology. The other thing that we have to do is treat sociological problems that go along with it—poverty, disconnection, lack of opportunity, all of these things are underlying any epidemic.”

This Bass Connections project began in 2016-17, continued with a Data+ summer project on mental health interventions by Durham police and took on a new challenge for 2017-18. “This year we decided to look around and see where we could do the most good,” Schramm-Sapyta said. “It turned out that we could do the most good in the Emergency Department at Duke. We’re working with emergency room doctors to try to get an increase in Naloxone prescribing and to get partnerships so that people who come in with an opiate overdose can get connected to treatment resources.”

Mental Health First Aid Workshop

Mental Health First AidThe Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach team is hosting a mental health first aid training session sponsored by Alliance Behavioral Health and the Durham Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Participants can learn from Durham first responders and receive certification in Adult Mental Health First Aid from the National Council of Behavioral Health.

The two-day, eight-hour training course is designed to give members of the public important skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Participants will learn how to recognize risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and noncrisis situations and where to turn for help.

  • Dates: Saturday, November 4 AND Sunday, November 5
  • Location: McClendon 5 on Saturday and McClendon 2 on Sunday
  • Times: 11am-3pm

Lunch will be provided. Sign up to participate.

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