Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

May 2019

​Dear friends,

Today is Preventing Prescription and Opioid Drug Misuse day. The occasion provides an opportunity to assess our efforts at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus to address the opioid crisis gripping our state.

This epidemic is devastating communities, families and individuals across Colorado and the country. On average 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdose; it was responsible for 560 deaths in Colorado in 2017. And for every death, there are many more people struggling with opioid addiction.

Nicholas Antonio is one of them. His experience as a survivor of the Columbine school shooting 20 years ago led to significant post-traumatic stress disorder, and he turned to opioids to cope. After a downward spiral that included jail time, he finally found the help he needed at the Sheridan Health Services clinic, operated by the CU College of Nursing. There he received medication-assisted treatment (MAT), a whole-patient approach that combines FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. The approach not only worked for Nicholas; it has proven so effective in treating opioid addiction that governments at all levels are expanding access to it – including in rural Colorado, with the help of our nursing and medical schools.

MAT is just one among many fronts from which the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is tackling opioid abuse. To address the massive scale of the crisis, we’re marshaling our resources across the spectrum of health fields.

  • Through a range of offerings, we’re educating current and future health providers to navigate the complexities in preventing and treating opioid abuse. Our dental school is educating practicing dentists on newly developed guidelines for pain medicine prescriptions, and the Colorado School of Public Health is launching programs that address mental health and substance use from a population perspective. 
  • Inside our labs, researchers are seeking to answer questions at the heart of the epidemic. They are exploring the frequency of opioid prescriptions, harnessing data to predict opioid use after hospitalization, and conducting a wide range of other studies.
  • In addition to providing a variety of treatment options, our clinicians are developing ways to better use electronic health records to identify potential abuse. Physicians at CU Anschutz developed a one-click tool that allows busy emergency room staff to instantly see how many prescriptions a patient has filled at other locations.
  • Our work is culminating in the creation of the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention​, housed at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, starting this summer. The new center will host the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, which since 2013 has worked with partners in government, academia, and communities to coordinate the state’s response to the opioid crisis. Our vision is for the center to become a national leader in research, education, and community engagement around prescription drug abuse prevention.

We’re doing much more than will fit in one email​, and support from our community plays an integral role in this work.

With health and well-being at the heart of our mission, we have both the capability and the responsibility to address the seriousness and complexity of the opioid crisis broadly, and in concert with many other institutions. There is no single fix, but by attacking it from all sides we are making progress.

Don Elliman


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