UConn students and faculty members explored the United States opioid crisis and discussed the best way to help those affected at “What Should We Do About the Opioid Crisis?” on Monday night. With more than 20 attendees, the forum, hosted by Community Outreach’s Dialogue Initiatives, included videos, a presentation by No Friend Left nALoxONE and group discussions.
Charlie Upton, a PharmD and post-doc fellow at UConn who attended the event, said the opioid epidemic is a part of a crisis that needs to be addressed.
“Addiction and mental health is our current frontier right now in healthcare,” Upton said. “I think it points to a lot more in our society than just keeping people healthy and happy. I think there is a deeper reflection that we are sadly realizing needs to take place in order to solve this problem.”
The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that in 2016, 64,000 Americans were killed by drug overdoses. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.
The event covered three strategies to combating drug addiction in communities: focusing on treatment, enforcement and individual choice. The second, favored by the group, holds the government and pharmaceutical companies responsible for damage caused by opioid prescriptions. Focus on enforcement implies stricter laws and stronger enforcement procedures, while the third takes a laissez-faire approach to treatment, according to the NIH.
The event also featured four videos by SciShow, The Truth, Vice News and Democracy Now. The Democracy Now video featured an interview with Dr. Carl L. Hart, a neuroscientist who recently authored an article in Scientific American titled “People are dying because of ignorance, not because of opioids,” in response to President Trump proclaiming the opioid epidemic as a national health crisis.
Hart discussed how increasing enforcement procedures leads to a form of racial discrimination, as people of color are more likely to be arrested for drug related crimes. He suggested instead that increasing the availability of Naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, would be more beneficial.
“The president also claimed that the opioid crisis ‘is a worldwide problem.’ It isn’t,” Hart wrote in the article. “Throughout Europe and other regions where opioids are readily available, people are not dying at comparable rates as those in the U.S., largely because addiction is treated not as a crime but as a public health problem.”
No Friend Left nALoxONE, a group on campus promoting the accessibility of Naloxone, presented their overdose prevention initiative at the event. The group is run through the School of Pharmacy and aims to increase awareness of naloxone, how it is used, and other pertinent information, including the Good Samaritan law in Connecticut that prevents a 911 caller from getting in trouble if they are abusing substances.
Nick DeFilippo, a senior second year Pharmacy student, attended to learn about biases and stereotype acceptance regarding drug addiction.
“I am leading a group on campus through my fraternity [Alpha Zeta Omega] that is focusing on the opioid epidemic,” DeFilippo said. “When more people understand addiction and know what the stereotypes are so that they don’t perpetuate them in the future, we can really start to have these harm reduction strategies that we’ve been talking about be implemented into our communities.”
When people become involved in putting an end to the epidemic, the situation will improve, Upton said. He said he was glad to see a room full of students engaging in the topic and discussing strategies to move forward.
“It was really great to see all the interest from the people involved, people from different areas of their studies, and it gave me a little bit of hope for the future because I think that the future generations are going to be better than the ones that are [in charge] right now,” Upton said. “As Dr. Hart said, the people in power are not good at this. It’s hopeful to know that time is going to keep moving forward and, that the group that I saw tonight was optimistic about treatment.”
Miranda Garcia is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.