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MCPHS students attending the Opioid Healthcare Crisis Symposium.

MCPHS Convenes a Panel of Experts on the Current Opioid Crisis

  • On Thursday, April 5, 2018, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) hosted the Opioid Healthcare Crisis Symposium, discussing ways to confront the opioid crisis.

    During the opening remarks, leaders at MCPHS acknowledged that the opioid crisis is multifaceted and complex. “We know there’s no silver bullet,” said Francis Melaragni, assistant Professor and Director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Business programs at MCPHS, “but if each of us gets in the trenches and fights, we can begin to tip the scales.”

    In his opening remarks, MCPHS President Charles F. Monahan Jr. BSP ’62 pointed to simple training that saves lives every day. “It’s my belief that, in this day and age, every healthcare professional should know how to administer Narcan,” said President Monahan.

    The event, which was attended by students, faculty, and staff from the Boston campus, in addition to members of the community, featured a panel of experts from a variety of backgrounds, including pharmacy, advocacy, and harm reduction.

    The following individuals were panelists at the event:

    Allison Burns (PharmD ’16), a registered pharmacist specializing in substance abuse and addiction medicine. She is the founder, president, and CEO of End Mass Overdose Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to stemming the opioid epidemic, and a former U.S. Navy pilot.

    Marcy Julian, the senior western regional manager for Learn to Cope, a forum for parents of addicts and those lost to addiction. A former assistant district attorney for Hampden County, she served on Governor Charlie Baker’s Special Commission to Study Licensed Addiction Treatment Centers.

    Jake Nichols (PharmD ’00), a registered pharmacist in long-term recovery who specializes in medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders. He is CEO of Strategic Recovery Resources LLC, a private consulting group with a focus on opioid use disorder.

    Mary Wheeler, the program director at Healthy Streets Outreach Program, which provides harm reduction services to the North Shore, including syringe service programs, overdose education and naloxone distribution, and overdose follow-up visits with first responders.

    During the panel discussion, the speakers addressed the importance of removing the stigma of addiction, the various treatment options and resources available, and the need for more education and policy changes. Highlights included the following:

    What motivates you to keep fighting the opioid epidemic? Are you hopeful about the future?

    Burns: My personal experience with family and fellow Veterans Administration members keeps me at the front line of fighting this epidemic. I believe there are three paths to opioid addiction—pain, personal trauma, and partying. Looking at the education and prevention efforts that are keeping opioid painkillers out of the way we address these three paths keeps me hopeful.

    Wilson: I’m trying to be hopeful, but we need to reach youth as we are treating adults. Young people can’t idolize entertainers that use these things. There needs to be better education at an early age so that people know how bad these things are for them. Bottom line: treat others with kindness, no matter their circumstances.

    Nichols: For me, overcoming addiction was like being locked in a cage naked in a cold, dark room with the key to the cage dangling right in front of me. I was fortunate to have the right resources at my disposal. All the work done to end the stigma and take the shame out of addiction treatment gives me hope. But I’m not as hopeful for the future of addiction, in general, due to the unintended consequences of fixing only one problem.

    Julian: My personal experience and my interactions with other Learn to Cope community members who are struggling keep me involved. Communities have to help themselves, and we all have to help one another. It’s a disease that requires trust to treat, and I’m hopeful about the future.

    How important is educating children at a young age?

    Nichols: There needs to be better education of our youth, and college students and young adults are in a better position to provide that than we are. The DARE program doesn’t work. Further education on the risks of the drugs and the resources available to treat addiction is the key to success.

    Wheeler: We need to give them the full picture, the “why” of the equation. That means dignifying the groups we’re trying to help so that they will listen to us and improving the language of addiction—stop calling them “kids,” for example, and don’t use words like “dirty” or “junkie.”

    Julian: Educating children about all forms of addiction is immensely helpful, including addiction to stimulants such as Adderall and even addiction to electronic devices and social media. We can help stem the tide by providing the resources children need to avoid these substances and treat their substance abuse issues early on.

    Burns: It’s important not to let people define themselves by their addiction. We need to remove the stigma of addiction so that they’ll go get help if they need it—and remove the parent stigma so parents aren’t ashamed of themselves, and their kids, when treatment comes up.

    What can we do to help?

    Burns: Educate yourself on the issues of addiction, best practices, and treatment procedures.

    Nichols: Stay up to date on the new tools that are available to pharmacists and the public.

    Julian: Show kindness toward addicts so that they feel they are worth saving, and be kind to their parents as well.

    Wilson: Keep the conversation going and continue to educate others on the topic of addiction and treatment.

    Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) offers more than 100 degree programs designed to empower the next generation of healthcare leaders, and has campuses in Boston, Worcester, and Manchester, NH.