At national summit, UK experts lead fight against opioid epidemic
Few states have been hit harder by the opioid epidemic than Kentucky. Countless lives have been lost, families have been broken and communities have been ravaged.
That’s why University of Kentucky physicians, researchers, and academic and administrative leaders joined nearly 3,000 experts from all 50 states at the annual Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit this week in Atlanta.
Together, they are seeking solutions.
The annual summit is the largest national collaboration of local, state and federal agencies; business; academia; treatment providers; and allied communities affected by prescription drug abuse and heroin use. The summit was introduced in 2012 under the leadership of Operation UNITE and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (R-Ky.).
“We all know the challenges. They confront our state in profound and distressing ways every day,” said UK President Eli Capilouto, who has attended the conference several times and returned this year. “The impact of this meeting and the agencies Congressman Rogers brings to the table with potential to fund breakthrough work in Kentucky underscores the incredible power of partnership and collaboration.”
Strategies to fight substance abuse
Specifically, the purpose of the conference is to develop comprehensive strategies and approaches to substance abuse. The need in Kentucky is pronounced. The state’s rate of opioid overdose death remains above the national average, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 1,419 Kentucky overdose deaths in 2016.
UK and UK HealthCare are leading the charge in the Commonwealth and across the nation to curb rates of overdose, overdose death and infectious diseases associated with injection drug use, and to help patients enter recovery.
For example, in a discussion led by Mark Birdwhistell, UK HealthCare vice president for administration and external affairs, and Dr. Seth Himelhoch, chairman of the UK Department of Psychiatry, two treatment and prevention programs were highlighted:
- PATHways/Beyond Birth helps pregnant women with opioid use disorder (OUD) access obstetric care, OUD treatment and support services from the time they are referred through the two years following delivery. During a “vision session” at the conference, medical director Dr. Michael Kindred, program director Holly Dye and nurse navigator Nancy Jennings discussed how the program came to be and the direction it will take in the future.
- The Bluegrass Care Clinic is led by Dr. Alice Thornton, chief of the UK Division of Infectious Disease and medical director of the clinic. Along with Dr. Laura Fanucchi, Thornton discussed some of the consequences of OUD and injection drug use, including higher rates of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.
The Rx Summit also provided an opportunity for researchers and university leaders to speak directly with congressional and federal leaders who are integral to turning the tide on opioid abuse, addiction and infectious diseases.
During discussions with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, leaders from UK shared how they are leveraging federal research money to find innovative ways to treat OUD and associated illnesses.
Also, leaders and researchers described to Rogers the impact their research is having in Kentucky and how they work across campus and across disciplines to improve lives in the state.
“I’m continually inspired by the work I hear about conducted by our researchers and clinicians in this critically important area,” Capilouto said. “We are studying problems. But, more importantly, we’re working together – led by Congressman Rogers and so many others – to solve problems. We know that together, we can change our Commonwealth and countless lives for the better. That’s the goal and dream of this conference.”