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

The United States is in the throes of an opiate epidemic. From 2002 to 2015 there was a 2.8-fold increase in opioid overdose deaths. Drug overdoses now account for more accidental deaths than car accidents. 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.

This Bass Connections project team explored the opiate epidemic in Durham and the greater North Carolina community. Team members began with a local needs-assessment by learning from recovering addicts and families, as well as addiction treatment providers, and developed relationships with partners in advocacy, first responders and the medical community.

The team partnered with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition for several projects related to harm reduction and education. Team members assembled 624 emergency Naloxone rescue kits for the coalition to distribute across the state to at-risk populations, and developed resource cards identifying addiction treatment and other health resources for every county in North Carolina.

Engaging in advocacy for syringe exchange programs to protect drug users, team members called local legislators. On July 11, 2016, Governor McCrory signed a bill legalizing syringe exchange programs in North Carolina.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a model for community policing that brings together law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency departments and individuals and families with mental illness—including substance use disorders—to improve responses to people in crisis. To raise awareness of the Durham CIT collaborative, the team organized two events. CIT coordinators described their work at Duke’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds, and the team hosted a panel discussion at Duke with members of the CIT collaborative.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends expanding access and use of Naloxone to alleviate the consequences of the opioid epidemic. The team sent a letter cosigned by 11 community partners to Durham’s new police chief encouraging her to allow officers to carry Naloxone, and published an op-ed article. Partnering with the Duke Hospital Emergency Department, the team made plans for a quality-improvement intervention to distribute Naloxone to patients at risk of an opioid overdose and began negotiations with one manufacturer of Naloxone to provide free units for the study.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outputs

Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach (poster by Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Andrew Muzyk, Zachary Smothers, Katie Kanter, Mounika Pogula, Hazel Sanchez, Madeline Thornton)

Mental Health: A First Responders’ Perspective (panel discussion, February 21, 2017)

Resource cards for North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition specific to every county in the state

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

Family-oriented activities at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Discovery Day (April 9, 2017)


Zachary Smothers

Katie Kanter as a student and an alumna

This Team in the News

New Bass Connections project researches Alzheimer’s disease

Meet the Members of the 2017-18 Student Advisory Council

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 (2016-17)

Bass Connections Projects from Duke Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Bass Connections Students Striving to Save Lives

See related team, Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach (2017-2018), and Data+ summer project, Mental Health Interventions by Durham Police (2017).

Team Leaders

  • Andrew Muzyk, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

/graduate Team Members

  • Zachary Smothers, Biomedical Sciences

/undergraduate Team Members

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

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Kathryn Andolsek, School of Medicine-Family Medicine and Community Health

/zcommunity Team Members

  • North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition
  • Durham Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)