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UT forms opioid task force in response to epidemic

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    Linda Lewandowski, University of Toledo College of Nursing Dean, left, and Amy Thompson, professor of public health and president of Faculty Senate, discuss the goals of a newly-formed opioid task force at the University of Toledo.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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    Amy Thompson, professor of public health and president of Faculty Senate, left, and Linda Lewandowski, University of Toledo College of Nursing Dean, are co-chairs of the newly-formed opioid task force at the University of Toledo.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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    Amy Thompson, professor of public health and president of Faculty Senate, discuss the goals of a newly-formed opioid task force at the University of Toledo.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
    Buy This Image

  • opioidxxp-3

    Linda Lewandowski, University of Toledo College of Nursing Dean, discusses the goals of a newly-formed opioid task force at the University of Toledo.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
    Buy This Image

A wearable device that could help people recovering from addiction monitor their vital signs and stay on track. Drone delivery for the overdose reversing drug naloxone. A program to teach elementary students about safe prescription drug use.

Those are just some of the big ideas coming from professors, researchers, and students at the University of Toledo. Harnessing those ideas — and finding the right people and money to make them happen — are among the primary goals of a new opioid task force created last month by UT President Sharon Gaber.

At the helm are co-chairs Amy Thompson, a professor of public health, and Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing. First up was to determine what opioid-related work was already under way at the university, the co-chairs said. 

“Everything tends to be in silos,” Ms. Thompson said. “We were not aware of all the wonderful and talented people that we have and the innovation that is occurring on our campus.”

Now they are helping to introduce those people to learn how they can work together for research and interdisciplinary education. It’s drawn the attention of law professors interested in drug courts, economic experts studying how the epidemic affects lost work time, and those across the spectrum of public health and medical fields, they said. 

“What we found is we have faculty in almost every school and college at UT that are involved in some aspect of the opioid crisis,” Ms. Lewandowski said. “It’s such a monumental issue with so many tentacles.”

One of the task force’s first events was an opioid summit last week at the university, which brought together academics and state and local officials to discuss best practices and research funding opportunties.

Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, who attended last week’s summit, lauded UT’s efforts at the event and increased role in attacking the epidemic.

“This is an all hands on deck situation. In order to make good and sustained progress against this epidemic, we really need all the partners involved ... and an important part of that is the academic community,” he said, noting Ohio’s colleges and universities are the ones training a new generation of medical and treatment providers and researching best practices.

Task force leaders plan to offer ongoing events to meet with the “boots on the ground” like social service agencies, recovery programs, and law enforcement. Ms. Lewandowski recalled one area agency representative who said they had lots of data but lacked the manpower or expertise to study it.

“We have a lot of faculty and students who are really good at looking at data and would love to have it,” Ms. Lewandowski said. “[Those are] great real world learning experiences for our students and great scholarship opportunities for faculty, all in the service of addressing community health problems.”

The hope is to show those inside and outside the university that UT is a resource for northwest Ohio, Ms. Thompson said. 

“People [at UT] are really excited to know that there are other people who want to work on this issue,” she said. “And I think the community is really excited that we’ve had a formal announcement that we want to be a strong partner to northwest Ohio in helping solve the opioid crisis.”

Some metric of success will come from new grant dollars flowing in to fund these big ideas, Ms. Lewandowski said, but the real measure will be when the tide of overdoses and deaths begins to slow. 

"We want to bring it down to, what impact has this had on the community's health and the health of the state and nation?" she said. "How can we move that needle to make a difference?"

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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