Staff report

More than 130 people in the United States die daily after overdosing on opioids and the crisis touches people from all walks of life.

Finding a solution to such a large problem requires an even bigger united effort between those involved in it. With that mindset, faculty from Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy and the Alabama Department of Public Health created a conference called “Conquering the Crisis: Fighting Substance Abuse in Alabama.”

“Alabama’s opioid crisis continues,” said Dr. Haley Phillippe, an associate clinical professor with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “These conferences offer opportunities for bringing awareness to the opioid crisis, gaining knowledge related to opioid-use disorder, as well as networking with a diverse group of healthcare professionals and community members.”

Now in its third year, the conference has reached nearly every part of the state and concluded its 2019 series with a stop at Montgomery’s Frazer United Methodist Church on March 29.

The conference seeks a broad spectrum of professionals to reach all those who are involved in the opioid crisis, spanning physicians, pharmacists, nurses, first responders, law enforcement, social workers and educators.

The goal of the conference is to bring people from these various professions together to learn more about the problem and how they can work together to develop solutions.

“It took a long time to get where we are with the problem, so it is not something we are going to solve quickly because we are talking about people that are professionals changing what they do,” said Dr. Brent Fox, an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “It is almost a continuous evolution of education to reflect how we are learning more about the problem but also we are learning that one solution that we propose may cause another problem. We are still trying to bring folks together, talk about the problem, talk about solutions and then talk about how those solutions may or may not impact someone else.”

A person battling an opioid addiction will encounter a myriad of people from healthcare providers to counselors and, at times, law enforcement and first responders. Knowing how they interact with those battling an addiction can help develop a collaborative effort to offer assistance and treatment.

“The scope of the problem has been really surprising,” Fox said. “The persistence of the problem … they get treatment and then they come out and they face those same challenges again and they relapse. The scope, the persistence of the problem and the lack of resources available, not just in Alabama but nationwide, to address the problem have been an eye-opener.”

As the conference has evolved, healthcare fields have focused on developing collaborative processes to address the problem.

“Our first series of conferences focused on bringing awareness to Alabamians and encouraging Alabamians to work outside their silos and our second series continued to build on these principles and included more specific drug information and tactics for successful communication,” Phillippe said. “On our third series, we are focused on appropriate pain management and treatment solutions for opioid-use disorder.”

General topics addressed in the 2019 conference include pain management vs. diversion, communication, treatment solutions and resources, and information on the prescription drug-monitoring program.

Speakers include Dr. Jeremy Johnson, a physician with UAB-Huntsville Family Medicine; Dr. Timothy Atkinson, a clinical pharmacy specialist in pain management and owner of Vanguard Pain Management Consulting in Nashville; Dr. Karen Marlowe, assistant dean with the Harrison School of Pharmacy; Dr. Lori Lioce, a clinical associate professor in nursing at the University of Alabama-Huntsville; and Dr. Mitchell Mutter, director of special projects with the Tennessee Department of Health. Fox and Phillippe are also on the program committee.

Phillippe, who is serving as the principle investigator on the project, is encouraged by the continued statewide participation.

“It is exciting to see how many repeat attendees we see each year,” Phillippe said. “Many repeat attendees bring friends or co-workers with them. Some have closed their practice the day of the program to ensure all providers and staff can attend. This is a great testament to the importance of the opioid crisis to providers and community members.”

For more information on the conferences, visit pharmacy.auburn.edu/addiction.