A partnership between Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and alcohol and drug recovery agency the Farnum Center brought business leaders, clinicians and educators together last week for a one-day symposium to address the opioid epidemic.
The event, Leading Manchester to Recovery, was designed as a day of learning for professionals in a broad spectrum of disciplines who are impacted by the effects of an epidemic that killed more than 47,000 people across the United States in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
“We’re dealing with a drug that kills more people than any other drug,” said Farnum Center Chief Operating Officer Dr. Cheryl Wilkie. “I think that’s the biggest challenge: We don’t have as much time to save someone’s life. We don’t have as much time to teach them that they can save their own life.”
A Day of Learning
Leading Manchester to Recovery offered a chance for nurses and physicians, educators and business leaders and managers a chance to learn from SNHU and Farnum Center experts about best practices to address the epidemic. It also allowed those stakeholders to share the ways addiction impacts their patients, students and employees.
One point many participants made is that drug addiction affects far more than addicts themselves. Educators see the profound impact on their students whose parents are addicted to heroin or other drugs. Business leaders encounter employees struggling with addiction themselves or trying to help someone in their family. Of course, emergency medical providers encounter hundreds of individuals overdosing in emergency rooms and in the community.
“We see it everywhere. We see it in treatment centers, and we see it in emergency services, and then we see it filter down to the kids who are impacted by that,” Dr. Eric Perry, an instructor of clinical mental health counseling at SNHU. “I think what’s most important to handle this properly is that we don’t try to handle it in silos. We need to handle this collaboratively, together.”
The crisis is particularly acute in New Hampshire, which had a fatality rate nearly 3 times the national average in 2016, according to NIDA. Manchester, the state’s largest city, has been described as ground zero for the epidemic in New Hampshire.
Partnering with the Community
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig opened the event and pointed to some of the positive signs in Manchester as a result of collaboration between law enforcement, treatment experts, city officials and more. Under the city’s Safe Station’s program, anyone can enter a Manchester fire station and ask for help with their addiction. Two years ago, it took 2-3 weeks for a person to get a spot at a treatment facility under that program. Now it takes 2-3 days. Thanks partially to Safe Stations, in addition to other efforts, overdoses in the city have declined 19%, and deaths have dropped 22%, Craig said.
“Partnerships with the city are critical in terms of addressing this major issue in the city,” she said. “We know from past experience that Manchester can’t do it alone, so these partnerships have been instrumental in terms of making a difference in what we’re doing - providing education to our community and addressing the needs of individuals who need our help the most.”
Dr. Jan Wyatt, associate vice president for business, counseling, nursing and health professions at SNHU, said he helped organize the event because as a member of the New Hampshire community, it was important for SNHU to offer its resources to help.
“There is a crisis in regard to the opioid epidemic, and we couldn’t just do nothing,” he said. “It’s important for SNHU to take a role in this problem because this is not someone else’s problem. This is all of our problem. Addiction is a community disease.”
Tym Rourke is the director of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s New Hampshire Tomorrow. He said the event was a chance for workers confronting the opioid epidemic on the ground to share what they’re experiencing.
“Today was a really great opportunity to bring those who are on the front lines together so that they can get the information that they need to improve the way that they evolve and impact families that have been touched by this issue,” Rourke said. “There’s not a family in New Hampshire that isn’t touched by this issue, and that plays out day to day in their jobs.”
A series of educational workshops were divided into 4 tracks for clinicians, business leaders and educators. Experts in each area led sessions such as Building Bridges Through Communication, Our Substance Use Crisis and the Way Forward, and Addiction: Signs and Symptoms. The hope was to provide each group with new knowledge and concrete skills to better address the challenges they’re facing every day.
Interacting with professionals in other disciplines also opened the possibility of forming new working relationships, said Lyndsay Goss, lead faculty in nursing at SNHU.
“I think some of the key takeaways is that connection, that people are gathering new connections with people they haven’t met before in the past and that they’re able to use some of the tools and strategies they learn today.”
Rourke said he hoped attendees left with an understanding that they are not powerless; that while addiction needs to be treated with “compassionate care” like any other medical diagnosis, there are signs of progress from the work already being done.
“If you deliver that compassionate care and you deliver it in an evidence-based way, patient outcomes are actually good,” he said. “I hope that today is about certainly making people understand the ways this issue is impacting our communities but at the same time understanding that there’s actually a role that they can play in really turning the tide of the epidemic.”
Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.