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Opioid symposium will address the epidemic within the pandemic


The annual Healthy State Alliance Opioid Symposium takes place Saturday. The virtual event for health care providers will focus on several topics, including the rise in opioid deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and drug addiction's correlation to human trafficking. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 93,000 people in the U.S. died last year due to drug overdoses, a nearly 30 percent increase from 2019. Franklin County experienced a nearly 46% increase in overdose deaths in 2020. Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and Bon Secours Mercy Health formed the Health State Alliance in 2018 to improve community health in a number of areas including opioid addiction and treatment. One contributing factor to the overdose increase, a lack of access to care according to Bon Secours Mercy Health family medicine physician Dr. Robert Zukas. 

"While the pandemic has really pushed forward telehealth, not all of our patients have the ability to log on to telehealth," Dr. Zukas continued. "They either don't have a computer or phone to access that. The stress of isolation. Mental health issues often run hand-in-hand with substance use disorders, so we see that's really affecting the increase and the spike in deaths from overdose."

System medical director for behavioral health Dr. Carson Felkel says there's also a correlation between opioid use and human trafficking.  

"Sometimes through force, fraud, and coercion, these men and women who are ensnared into trafficking do have an addiction issue," Dr. Felkel said. "But then because opioids are unfortunately so strong at numbing the physical, emotional, and psychological pain, these survivors will turn to them to survive."

Felkel points to the recent statewide human trafficking sting, which resulted in the recovery of 51 potential victims and ten missing children, as reason to continue focusing on the issue moving forward. Another emphasis for health care providers when it comes to opioid addiction involves the way they communicate. Wexner Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. O. Trent Hall describes it as putting the person first and the disease last. 

"One reason it's so powerful is that research has shown that when healthcare providers are exposed to person-first language, they are more likely to come up with an evidence-based treatment plan for that patient," Dr. Hall said. "They're more likely to engage them in appropriate care. However, if they instead hear the patient described using non-person first or stigmatizing language, they're much more likely to think of the patient's health condition as a moral failing or a personal problem, and it shuts down our scientific thinking. It shuts down humanism. It prevents us from thinking about all of the training we've had to help this person."

Other topics at the symposium include alternatives in pain management to reduce opioid use and some of the latest research. It's open to clinicians across the country.

Here's a link to the registration page: https://bsmh.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_L1XcArB0ReKAhTDm-4z1Gw   

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Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience.