Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH.

Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, indicates just how immense the opioid epidemic has become during an interprofessional forum that drew 762 UB students.

Team Approach Highlighted in Dealing With Opioid Epidemic

Published December 11, 2017 This content is archived.

story based on news release by ellen goldbaum

The value of interprofessional collaboration in dealing with the opioid crisis was highlighted as students and staff from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences joined other UB schools of study during a forum on opioid dependence.


In all, 762 UB students took part in the forum — titled “Confronting Opioid Dependence: An Interprofessional Strategy” — with 160 of those from the Jacobs School.

Schools Emphasize Interprofessional Education

“We are dedicated to ensuring that our students graduate from UB as interprofessional collaborators with a strong moral compass and who are able to perform competently on a team to deliver health care that is safe, effective, and equitable,” said Patricia Ohtake, PhD, assistant vice president for interprofessional education, in her opening remarks.

An emphasis on interprofessional collaboration is a hallmark of health professions education today and is designed to give students an opportunity to collaborate with, and learn from, one another. It is a key component of the new medical school curriculum.

According to Ohtake, the opioid crisis is a textbook example of a situation that requires a collaborative approach requiring care from physicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, public health workers, occupational and physical therapists, lawyers and health-care managers.

In addition to students from the Jacobs School, participants in the conference came from the schools of:

  • dental medicine
  • nursing
  • public health and health professions
  • pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences
  • social work
  • law
  • management

Students Learn About Developing Treatment Plan

The forum featured breakout sessions during which participants worked together in small interprofessional teams to develop a prevention and treatment plan for a fictional patient who had an opioid dependence. A faculty facilitator was also assigned to each team.

During the small group session, students had the opportunity to learn from and about students from other health professions. In the process, they were able to gain a broader perspective about the enormity of the health crisis and the importance of collectively trying to find solutions to the problem.

Cain Emphasizes Need for Cooperation

Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school, emphasized the need for interaction with other providers, noting that when he was in medical school, the only people he learned alongside were other medical students.

“But all of a sudden when you graduate, you are working with people from all these other disciplines,” Cain said. “Why not let them appreciate as students what these other providers do and how they’ll interact with them? That’s the value of interprofessional education.”

Burstein Speaks About Hope Amid the Anguish

Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, Erie County commissioner of health and clinical professor of pediatrics, was a keynote speaker.

Burstein provided a grim picture of the crisis. More than 64,000 people died of a drug overdose in the U.S. in 2016, with more than three-quarters of those deaths from opioids. Opioid-related deaths have quadrupled since 1999. Erie County experienced a 256 percent increase in drug deaths in a five-year span (2010-2015).

Burstein also noted that several local initiatives — including more than 3,000 calls received by the county’s crisis hotline and greatly increased training for medical providers — are starting to have positive effects.

Large lecture hall full of students.

Students from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and seven other UB schools of study attended the second annual interprofessional forum on opioid addiction.

Educating Providers About Addiction

Paul Updike, MD, medical director of chemical dependency services for the Catholic Health System, was the other keynote speaker.

Updike noted that hospitals like Sisters of Charity in Buffalo are seeing a dramatic increase in the incidence of newborns addicted to drugs. He described his work with pregnant women who are addicted and how a major component of helping them get better is educating hospital providers and staff about addiction.

“We found there was a widespread feeling among staff that these patients are trouble. There was quite a bit of bias; a lot of it was classic ignorance,” he said.

The decision was then made to educate every staff person who came into contact with a patient.

“We came together as a team of professionals to change how we delivered care to these patients who are very vulnerable to begin with and mistrustful — sometimes with good reason — of the system,” Updike said. “We changed the way we delivered care to these patients.”

The result was a significant improvement in outcomes for both mothers and babies.

Interprofessional Forum Was Second Annual Event

This second annual interprofessional forum was sponsored by the Office of Interprofessional Education and hosted by the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

It took place Nov. 9 at the University at Buffalo.