Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach (2016-2017)


Every day, 44 people die in American communities from an overdose of prescription opioids, and many more become addicted. —CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

The United States is in the throes of an opiate epidemic. In contrast to the heroin epidemic of the 1960s, today’s opiate addicts often begin by legitimately taking opiate medication for pain, then progress to inappropriate use and eventually switch to heroin as a cheaper alternative when their addiction becomes entrenched. Consequences of this epidemic include a sharp spike in overdose deaths in recent years, due both to the misperception that prescription medications are “safe” and to the general increase in use of these drugs. In addition, opiate-overdose deaths are highly preventable if those around the overdoser are educated in a few easily-recognizable symptoms and straightforward intervention strategies.

Project Description

The goal of this Bass Connections project is to partner with at-risk individuals, families and their medical providers to develop and disseminate resources and materials to help prevent misuse, addiction and death. Team members began with a local needs-assessment by learning from recovering addicts and families, as well as addiction treatment providers.

To date the team has developed resource cards that provide contact information for all opioid treatment centers in North Carolina, divided by county and region; assembled 624 Naloxone reversal kits (with the NC Harm Reduction Coalition); sent a letter cosigned by 11 community partners to Durham’s new police chief encouraging her to allow officers to carry Naloxone; published an op-ed article and scheduled two community speaking engagements to promote awareness of the Durham Crisis Intervention Team Collaborative (Psychiatry Grand Rounds, December 14, 2016; and a public forum scheduled for late February 2017); filmed a public service announcement designed to reduce stigma associated with drug addiction; developed the initial proposal for Naloxone distribution in the Emergency Department; and initiated a proof-of-concept data analysis project designed to examine the relationship between mental health services and crime in North Carolina.

Anticipated Outcomes

Anticipated deliverables may be online and print materials and participation in community outreach events. Regardless of the chosen intervention approach, all learners involved will gain an understanding of the nature and extent of the opiate misuse problem in our community. Deliverables will be stakeholder satisfaction and any online and print materials and outreach activities.


Summer (May 16 – July 1 [Summer Session I]) 2016 – Spring 2017

Summer 2016: Students convene to gain basic pharmacological, neurobiological and epidemiological knowledge about addiction; learn the principles of community engagement; identify relevant community stakeholders and meet with them to conduct a needs assessment; collaborate to create a relevant intervention plan. Fall 2016 and Spring 2017: Continue to work with community stakeholders to refine and prepare strategies including any materials and outreach.

Team Outcomes to Date

There’s a Better Way for Police to Interact with the Mentally Ill (op-ed by Nicole Schramm-Sapyta and Zachary Smothers)


Zachary Smothers

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Team Develops Strategies to Combat North Carolina's Opioid Crisis

Reflections on Mentoring from Bass Connections Graduate Students

Meet the Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

Bass Connections Students Striving to Save Lives

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Kathryn Andolsek, School of Medicine - Community & Family Medicine*
Kathryn Andolsek, School of Medicine - Community & Family Medicine
Shelley Holmer, School of Medicine - Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences - General Psychiatry
Andrew Muzyk, School of Medicine - Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences*
Kenyon Railey, School of Medicine - Community & Family Medicine - Physicians Assistant Program
Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences*

Graduate Team Members

Zachary Smothers, School of Medicine - Master of Biomedical Sciences

Undergraduate Team Members

Katie Kanter, Neuroscience (AB), Chemistry (AB2)
Kalito Luna, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Mounika Pogula, Biology (BS)
Koree Sanchez, Economics (BS), French Studies (AB2)
Madeline Thornton, Global Health (AB), French Studies (AB2)

* denotes team leader