Published November 8, 2016
Nine hundred UB students from the health professions, social work, law and management learned how they can best work together to tackle the opioid epidemic.
In three consecutive sessions of 300 students each, they attended UB’s first annual Interprofessional Forum, “Confronting Opioid Dependence: An Interprofessional Strategy,” sponsored by UB’s Office of Interprofessional Education.
The students were from the schools of Dental Medicine, Nursing, Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Public Health and Health Professions (occupational therapy and physical therapy programs), Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Social Work, Law and Management. Through a connection with the UB nursing school, students from the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, also took part via video link.
“This is our army of future health care workers,” said Lisa Jane Jacobsen, associate dean for medical curriculum in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “We want our students to understand that it isn’t just physicians or public health officials that are going to solve the opioid epidemic. It’s going to take all of the professions working together.”
The event, which took place in Kapoor Hall on the South Campus, was dedicated to the late Paul Wietig, the former director of the Office of Interprofessional Education, who passed away last spring.
Students listened first to presentations about the scope of the problem, both locally and nationally. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County health commissioner and clinical professor of pediatrics at UB, described the opioid epidemic as “multifactorial” and applauding the UB effort to promote interprofessional education.
Burstein provided statistics that demonstrate how opioid deaths in Erie County have been roughly doubling every year since 2014, with a projected 400 opioid deaths expected by the end of 2016. She discussed the demographics of the problem, noting that it occurs in urban, suburban and rural areas, and how it strikes white males more than other groups.
Burstein also described how local health care providers, law enforcement officials and others have been collaborating to mitigate the epidemic, developing an addiction hotline staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by professionals and how local hospital emergency departments have collaborated to develop a uniform plan to address the epidemic.
Rick Salada, director of operations, and Elliot Zimpher, program director, both of Horizon Health Services, discussed how addiction recovery works and the myriad challenges — personal, physical and financial — that patients face.
Richard D. Blondell, professor of family medicine, vice chair for addiction medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and a physician with UBMD Family Medicine, gave a grave assessment of addiction treatment. “A lot of work goes into getting someone into recovery,” he said. “It’s not easy. Failures are common.”
He noted that as mainstream medicine has taken measures to curb addiction, there has been a swift reaction from the drug world. “Once doctors started writing fewer prescriptions, the heroin dealers were right there to pick up the slack,” he said, point out that heroin is far cheaper and more available than opioids.
He cited polio and cervical cancer as examples of how many public health crises have been overcome in the past through prevention, rather than treatment. The purpose of the interprofessional forum, he said, was to realize and take advantage of all the opportunities that exist now for developing interventions that can prevent addiction.
Following the presentations, students took part in small-group discussions that involved developing a treatment plan for a fictional patient, driving home the concept that quality, patient-centered, cost-effective health care requires collaboration among all professions.
The opioid epidemic was an obvious focus for the interprofessional program, event organizers said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. And nearly 2 million Americans abuse or are dependent on prescription painkillers, which account for half of opioid overdoses.
“Educating all of our professional students about this devastating epidemic is critical,” said Alan Lesse, associate professor, vice chair for education and senior associate dean for medical curriculum in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“Learning how multiple professions can contribute to the solution in a true team-based approach is essential if we are to make inroads into controlling this epidemic,” Lesse said. “The complex interactions of health care, society, poverty, law and dependence can only be attacked by a true multidisciplinary approach.”
Patricia J. Ohtake, associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science, School of Public Health and Health Professions, noted that the goal of interprofessional education is for each student “to learn how to function as a team member and realize, ‘I need other professionals to ensure optimal outcomes for my patients.’”
“This is especially important when treating patients for pain and opioid addiction. For example, health professionals, such as physical therapists, can provide interventions to relieve pain without medication while social workers can assist patients with their addiction recovery and lawyers can help facilitate access to the services they need.”