Richard Blondell, MD, underscored the importance of preventing opioid abuse during his keynote address at an interprofessional forum that drew 900 UB students.

Med Students, Peers Seek Solutions to Opioid Epidemic at UB Forum

Published January 31, 2017

Students from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences joined hundreds of their UB peers in the health professions, social work, law and management for a forum on opioid dependence.

“Hopefully, this interprofessional forum is the beginning of much more collaboration and helps guide how students practice when they graduate.”
Professor of pediatrics, Erie County health commissioner

In all, 900 UB students participated in the program, titled “Confronting Opioid Dependence: an Interprofessional Strategy.”

Rx Painkiller Abuse the Clear Choice for Program

With nearly two million Americans abusing or dependent on prescription painkillers, the opioid epidemic was an obvious focus for the forum, said Alan J. Lesse, MD, senior associate dean for medical curriculum and associate professor of medicine.

“Educating all of our professional students about this devastating epidemic is critical,” he said. “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.”

In addition to students from the UB medical school, participants in the Nov. 7 conference came from the schools of:

  • dental medicine
  • nursing
  • public health and health professions
  • pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences
  • social work
  • law
  • management

Collaborating on Treatment Plans for Fictional Patients

The forum featured breakout sessions during which participants developed a treatment plan for a fictional patient. The exercise drove home the point that quality, patient-centered, cost-effective health care requires collaboration across professions.

 “We want students to understand that it isn’t just physicians or public health officials who are going to solve the opioid epidemic,” said Lisa Jane Jacobsen, MD, associate dean of medical curriculum and clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

“It’s going to take all of the professions working together.”

Burstein, Blondell Deliver Keynote Talks

Medical school faculty members Richard D. Blondell, MD, and Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, delivered the keynote presentations.

“Opioid addiction and the subsequent deaths we are experiencing are multifactoral problems that require the help of many different health disciplines as well as law enforcement and families,” said Burstein, clinical professor of pediatrics and Erie County health commissioner.

“Hopefully, this interprofessional forum is the beginning of much more collaboration and helps guide how students practice when they graduate.”

For the third year in a row, Erie County’s opioid-related deaths have substantially increased, Burstein pointed out.

Several recent initiatives — including naloxone training to empower first responders and Erie County residents to revive those on the verge of overdose deaths — have prevented even grimmer statistics, she added.

“We have had many reports of first responders going to the same person’s house three and four times a day to resuscitate them, so the deaths would be much higher without this program.”

Prevention Message Emphasized

Detailing the dramatic increase in opioid analgesic prescriptions in recent years, Blondell urged the forum’s participants to focus on addiction prevention, education and early intervention.

“Yes, we need treatment programs, but we cannot treat our way out of this epidemic,” said Blondell, professor of family medicine and vice chair of addiction medicine.

Blondell cited polio and cervical cancer as examples of past public health crises that were overcome by prevention rather than treatment.

“As long as the health system prescribes people into addiction faster than we can treat them, the problem is going to get worse. Prevention is the answer.”

A leader in the field of addiction medicine, Blondell coordinated the establishment of 40 addiction medicine fellowship training programs — including UB’s — an accomplishment that was instrumental in getting it recognized as a subspecialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

He encouraged the future health professionals attending the forum to prescribe opioid analgesics judiciously and to talk directly to patients — and their families — about the addiction risks they pose.

Whichever role audience members take in fighting the opioid epidemic, they should never judge those who develop a substance use disorder, he cautioned.

“Anybody can become addicted,” Blondell said. “At least 30 of you in this room will develop this problem.”

Underscoring how prescription opioids have shifted the demographics of addiction, Blondell noted that when he began working at Erie County Medical Center in 2003, his typical patient was an older male IV heroin user.

“Now,” he said, “the ECMC detox center looks like a 10-year high school reunion.”