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Ole Miss brings multidisciplinary approach to addressing the opioid addiction crisis


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 33,000 people in the U.S. died in 2015 as a result of an opiate overdose. One study of areas in 45 states showed opiate overdoses increased by 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017. The opioid problem has been referred to as the worst addiction problem in U.S. history. Its victims include people from all income levels and walks of life.

A recent symposium at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) was targeted towards developing a new approach to the problem that has spiraled out of control. More than 300 law and pharmacy students attended the symposium, “An Interprofessional Approach to the Opioid Crisis in Mississippi.” The symposium included a mock trial in front of Roy Percy, magistrate judge for the Northern District of Mississippi, and a keynote speech by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter commended the schools for proactively addressing the opioid epidemic.

“By working together, we are more likely to understand the full breadth of this challenge and to find innovative solutions,” Vitter said.

David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy, said the symposium was an incredible way to demonstrate to future pharmacy, nursing and law professionals that together they have the power to make real contributions that can lessen or end the opioid crisis.

The symposium helped teach students the importance of collaborating with those in other disciplines. “Students in professional schools work well with each other, but it is vital for them to learn from their peers in other schools who can provide a different perspective,” said Susan Duncan, dean of the law school.

Pharmacy practice professor Kim Adcock said the interprofessional mock trial and symposium provided a springboard for students to begin working together to learn from, about and with each other. Adcock said another goal of the event was to provide students and future practitioners a foundation to make the best professional decisions related to pain management.

Adcock worked with law professor Larry J. Pittman for about a year preparing for the symposium. Pittman said the symposium helped pharmacy students learn how the legal system interacts with the pharmacy profession and the medical profession in general.

“In the mock trial, the law students served as the attorneys and some of the pharmacy students served as experts in the pharmacy field to give expert opinions about whether a certain drug was given properly,” Pittman said. “It was a case where a pharmacist did not properly dispense a drug to a patient and the mock trial showed them how to prepare for that kind of trial. The law students learned about prescription drugs and how to work with pharmacy students to evaluate some of the pharmacy standards used in distributing such drugs. And the pharmacy students obtained knowledge about law related issues, including how the different parts of a trial fit together. The students were involved in substantial collaboration during the entire process of preparing for and presenting the mock trial.”

Pittman said this is the second year that the law school and the pharmacy school have presented the mock trial, and the first year for the opioid symposium. It is hoped that in the future that nursing and medical students will also get involved in the mock trial. He said another objective is for students to develop projects and learn how to go out into the community to work on various pharmaceutical and medicine-related issues.

“The end aim as far as the law school is concerned is to get law, pharmacy, medical and nursing students, as well as students in other fields, to work together while they are still in school so that they will be better able to work together once they become practicing professionals,” Pittman said.

The symposium also featured a panel discussion with Lauren Bloodworth, clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice; Dr. Kenneth Cleveland, executive director of the Mississippi State Medical Board of Licensure; Julie Mitchell, an attorney at Mitchell Day Law Firm in Ridgeland; and Amanda Criswell, MSN, RN-BC, who is an instructor of nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Mississippi currently has more than 40,000 registered nurses. Criswell said it is important to educate registered nurses about potential abuse issues and the resources available for people with an abuse potential. She said it is also vital for nurses to know why it is important to not start with that kind of medication.

“Health care is trying to change the way we were treating pain,” Criswell said. “For years, you would just go get an opioid. We are trying to shift to a new model. We have learned some things over the past few years. There are a lot of non-opioid medications that are available. In addition to your typical Tylenol and Motrin, there are other types of medicines that we are now learning are having an effect on pain and more specifically, chronic pain. Just as an example, they are learning there is a connection between some anticonvulsants and migraine pain. In addition to medications, there are also non-pharmacological things you can do like weight loss, yoga, mindful meditation, physical therapy, massage, TENs (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) units that send electrical impulses, and heat and ice.”


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