What It Will Take To Solve the Opioid Crisis
The opioid crisis is profoundly impacting American society. Deaths due to opioid misuse and abuse have surpassed deaths due to motor vehicle accidents and firearms. Prescription opioids such as Vicodin®, Percocet®, and OxyContin® – and their illicit counterparts heroin and fentanyl – were involved in 42,249 deaths in the United States in 2016, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Once in a while, the public’s attention focuses on this epidemic when a celebrity – Prince, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Petty, Heath Ledger – suddenly dies due to a prescription or illicit opioid overdose.
Rural communities are ground zero for the epidemic. A recent study reveals that the opioid crisis personally affects almost half of rural Americans, while nearly half of rural respondents said the opioid crisis in their communities has gotten worse. In Appalachian communities, respondents reported that drug addiction and abuse (including opioids) was a bigger problem in their community than economic concerns by a factor of 2 to 1.
What will it take to solve this crisis?
On Tuesday, October 30, Abt Associates will convene the latest in its Bold Thinkers Series, “Opioid Response: What Will it Take to Solve the Crisis?” Abt is convening nationally recognized experts to explore and discuss solutions from the perspectives of public health and justice, the front lines of primary care, and the on-the-ground situation at the community level.
The public health/justice panel will feature Commander John Burke, president of the International Health Facility Diversion Association and Dr. Rahul Gupta, state commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Following his retirement after 32 years with the Cincinnati Police Department, Commander Burke was named co-commander for the Southern Ohio High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA) for major drug case initiatives and interdiction. An educator and frequent lecturer, Commander Burke is the owner and president of Pharmaceutical Diversion Education, Inc., a company that provides education and consulting work on a wide variety of prescription drug abuse issues to law enforcement, health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. Before joining the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Gupta served as chief health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. An internist with subspecialty training in pulmonary medicine, he has authored more than 100 scientific publications in medicine and public health.
The primary care panel is expected to feature Dr. Daren Anderson, director of the Weitzman Institute – and Executive Director of its subsidiary, the Community eConsult Network – and Dr. Joanna Starrels, associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. As leader of the nation’s only research and innovation center embedded within a federally qualified health center, Dr. Anderson oversees a diverse team of innovators, health services researchers, educators and quality improvement specialists who design new models to transform primary care for the underserved. As a board-certified physician in addiction medicine, Dr. Starrels is nationally recognized for her research, clinical care and teaching. Her research focuses on opioid management for patients with chronic pain.
The community panel will feature Admiral James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr. (USN Ret.), co-founder of the S.A.F.E. Project U.S.; Dr. David Gastfriend, chief medical officer of DynamiCare Health; and Dr. Jittu George, director of pharmacy services for Shop and Carry Pharmacy. Admiral Winnefeld and his wife, Mary, founded S.A.F.E. Project following the loss of their 19-year-old son to an accidental opioid overdose in 2017. The Winnefelds immediately channeled their grief into action, hoping to save more families from the pain of loss. Their non-profit organization’s vision is to support action that will prevent fatal drug overdoses and to mitigate substance use disorder’s impact on society. A nationally-known expert in addiction medicine, Dr. Gastfriend was the chief architect of CONTINUUM, the American Society of Addiction Medicine Criteria Decision Engine. DynamiCare Health is a start-up providing integrated technologies and analytics to enhance significantly the treatment of substance use disorders. As director of pharmacy services, Dr. George established and oversees Narcan programs for community organizations to combat the opioid epidemic in the Philadelphia area.
“Opioid Response: What Will it Take to Solve the Crisis?” will be held at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., in downtown Washington, D.C. For those unable to attend in person, the event will be live-streamed. Details will be available online.
 As of this writing, Dr. Gupta has resigned his position with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services to become Senior Vice President and Chief Medical and Health Officer for the March of Dimes, effective November 1.