Workshop participants.

Students and a faculty facilitator engage in a small group discussion to prepare a prevention and treatment plan for a fictional patient.

Collaboration Key in Fight Against Opioid Use Disorder

Published November 20, 2018 This content is archived.

story by dirk hoffman

Interprofessional collaboration is a key component in addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic, students from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and other UB schools were told during the third annual forum on the topic.


Of the 780 UB health professions, law and management students who took part in the forum titled “Confronting Opioid Dependence: An Interprofessional Strategy,” 176 were medical students. The event was offered in three different sessions throughout the day.

The event was hosted by the Office of Interprofessional Education and was conducted for the first time in the new downtown home of the Jacobs School, taking advantage of its state-of-the art active learning classrooms.

Other participants in the Nov. 8 conference came from the schools of:

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

Opportunity to Learn About Other Disciplines

Patricia J. Ohtake, PhD, assistant vice president for interprofessional education, said the forum was an opportunity for students from different professions to meet and learn about what each other does while they are working on addressing a significant health problem.

“We also have our small group sessions where we can talk about how we can help to improve the care of people with opioid use disorder,” she said.

Those sessions consisted of breaking up into small interprofessional groups of seven to eight students and working with a faculty facilitator to develop a prevention and treatment plan for a fictional patient with opioid use disorder.

Small Group Discussions Stress Teamwork

During the small group sessions, students had the opportunity to learn from and about students from other health professions, law and management. In the process, they were able to gain a broader perspective about how a public health crisis of this enormity can only be addressed if different types of health professionals confront it from many different angles.

About 100 faculty members from the 12 participating professional programs served as facilitators for the small group discussions, including Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, who also delivered welcoming remarks at the morning session.

Synthetic Opioids Cause Thousands of Deaths

Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, Erie County commissioner of health and clinical professor of pediatrics, was the keynote speaker.

She said students needed to be equipped with good information and background on the opioid epidemic before they went about discussing ways to treat the problem.

Burstein noted that synthetic opioids — such as fentanyl and fentanyl analogs — are responsible for an increasing number of overdose deaths. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 in the United States and 30,000 of those were caused by synthetic opioids.

“It is a cash cow for drug dealers because it is very inexpensive to produce and they have learned that it can be mixed with heroin or cocaine to jack up the potency without increasing their own costs,” Burstein said. “The problem is that whenever people buy any kind of illicit drugs on the market, they have no idea what is in them.”

Opioid Overdose Deaths Decreasing Locally

A sharp rise in local opioid overdose deaths prompted the formation of the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force in 2016 and its efforts are having an effect.

Erie County is the only county in New York State that has experienced decreases in opioid overdose deaths during the past two years.

“There are still too many deaths, but it is trending in the right direction,” Burstein said.

Compassion Essential in Addiction Treatment

Burstein stressed to the students that addiction is a chronic disease and that the attitudes of health professionals and caregivers need to be aligned with that.

“Diabetes or cancer patients are not stigmatized in our community,” she noted. ”We should not stigmatize the disease of addiction.”

“It is essential that people suffering from addiction are treated compassionately and nonjudgmentally just like anyone else with chronic disease and that we give them the best evidence-based medication-assisted treatment just like we would with any other disease,” Burstein said.

This theme was reinforced during the second presentation of the session, given by Paul Updike, MD, medical director of substance abuse services for the Catholic Health System.

During his presentation titled “The Importance of Eliminating Stigma and Bias When Caring for People with Opioid Use Disorder,” Updike shared the importance of treating all patients equally and with kindness and compassion.

Micro-Credential Program Outlined

Ohtake also gave a brief overview of the Interprofessional Collaborative Practice (IPCP) Micro-Credential, which verifies that students have achieved the interprofessional collaboration skills and competencies established by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative.

The micro-credential program includes three digital badges that may be used on digital resumes or social media sites: IPCP Foundations, IPCP Communication and Teamwork and IPCP Healthcare Practice.

This micro-credential program is open to all UB students enrolled in a participating health professions program, including athletic training, dental medicine, dietetics, health law, health care management, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, public health and social work.