The recent HealthDoers Network panel discussion, “It Takes a Community: Owning the Opioid Epidemic”, brought together people in recovery, providers, and experts from regional healthcare improvement collaboratives. Panelists offered perspectives on the drivers behind the epidemic and how communities are effectively supporting providers and others working on the front lines to curb the epidemic. Collectively, participants offered concrete, actionable ideas and next steps for multi-faceted community interventions. Here’s Andre Johnson of the Detroit Recovery Project talking about one such effort during the discussion:
John Gallagher, Director of Communication and Development for the Washington Health Alliance, authored the following summary of the key takeaways from the event.
It Takes a Community: Owning the Opioid Epidemic – Key Takeaways
By John Gallagher, Director of Communication and Development for the Washington Health Alliance
This rich discussion highlighted one key truth: the opioid epidemic embodies all the challenges facing the health care system rolled into a single issue. Through their presentations, the panelists’ observations crystalized the issues that the system faces when it comes to the opioid epidemic.
- A crisis slowly building for years. The opioid epidemic has been developing over decades. It was only when it reached epidemic levels that it was widely considered a crisis.
- An aging and unhealthy population. Mike Eisenhart, Managing Partner, Pro-Activity Associates, laid out the underlying correlation between a population not just aging, but aging with more chronic diseases and greater obesity than in previous decades.
- The persistence of overuse. It’s not just that opioids are overprescribed. Tests—like MRIs for back pain—are also overused, putting people on the road to treatments that are unnecessary and risky.
- Getting providers to change behavior. Amy Belisle talked about the hard work of bring about change in the provider community. Getting providers to identify patterns in high-dose chronic patients and to fully participate in the state’s prescription monitoring program requires lots of coordination and education.
- The social problems outside of the system. Andre Johnson’s moving description of the deadly scythe of opioid addiction in his own family highlighted how the epidemic has reaches (and causes) far beyond the confines of the medical system.
Of course, what anyone who is laboring in the field would recognize is these issues aren’t just related to the opioid epidemic. These are the problems endemic to our country’s healthcare system as a whole. Whether it’s diabetes, behavioral health, or any one of a number of other widespread health issues facing the country, all share the same challenges of trying to address a big problem in an often-inhospitable landscape.
The heartening news is the work being done to knit the disjointed system together. The examples that the speakers presented on the webinar show that, while change isn’t easy, it is possible. The stakeholder initiative undertaken by the Caring for ME Leadership Group shows just how crucial broad outreach and communication as a foundation for change. That includes forums meant to listen to the experience of people in the community around the state to help inform the work being done.
The in-the-trenches mission of the Detroit Recovery Project shows just how important community involvement is in tackling the problem. Medical and behavioral health services are an integral part of the Project, but so are services well beyond the medical system: housing, education, and social support.
Of course, these are just a few examples of the tremendous energy across the country that is to addressing this epidemic. Whether it’s the work being done here in Washington state to educate physicians or consumers or the Opioid Coalition Resource Hub developed by Insightformation, the country is dotted with organizations committed to making the cycle of opioid addiction.
As dire as the opioid epidemic is, these broad efforts offer hope, and not just for this particular issue. We all know that improving population health means thinking not just about the medical system but the environment in which people actually live their lives. The work being done to address the opioid epidemic has the potential to break the old paradigm and move toward a more unified approach to achieve a culture of health. That would have ramifications far beyond the opioid epidemic, if we are smart enough to recognize it.