About 1,200 medical, dental and pharmaceutical students at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s campus came together Thursday with a single goal: to understand they are all part of a valuable team in the fight against the opioid epidemic, a crisis far from over.
In the first two months of 2017, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office alone responded to 324 overdose calls, including 43 deaths.
“From law enforcement’s perspective, our goal is ‘cut off the head of the snake and cut the supply from the street,’” said sheriff’s Capt. Todd Shear. “Our mission is to dismantle drug trafficking organizations in Manatee County — and there are a lot of them.”
Though the epidemic has revolved around heroin cut with lethal drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, Shear said prescription pills are making a comeback on the streets as well.
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“We understand the disease of drug addiction, and it’s not our goal to arrest someone suffering from addiction,” Shear said. “That’s why we also believe in education.”
Thursday’s presentation to students was part of Drug Free Manatee and LECOM’s inter-professionalism approach to combat the epidemic. Tim Novak, LECOM director, said it’s about getting awareness of what the epidemic is and understanding the systems in place to combat it.
“We initially began attending the Drug Free Manatee Addiction Crisis Task Force meetings for research, and it grew into something much bigger,” Novak said. “We can now educate our students before they graduate, because we have to get at this from the front and get them familiar with the agencies they will interface with.”
From law enforcement’s perspective, our goal is cut off the head of the snake and cut the supply from the street.
MCSO Capt. Todd Shear
And that includes with one another, Novak said, who noted part of Thursday’s event was to bring the three primary groups of students together because they will one day play a role in combating the crisis. For the past year, students have been conducting research on the epidemic to not only understand the true impact of it, but to try and determine where best to focus resources.
It’s not an easy task. Novak said the perception of an opioid user to the general public might be of a bad guy committing crimes on the street, but numbers show something different altogether. The majority of overdose calls emergency personnel respond to are for white males ages 30-39, “who wear suits and ties and have jobs and otherwise appear to be functioning adults.”
Today isn’t a magical wand we can wave and it will all be over. But we won’t stick our heads in the sand and not try to be a part of the solution.
LECOM Director Tim Novak
Novak said LECOM understands the important role it will play in the fight, because those addictions can start with the simplest of things.
“It might be someone who gets a wisdom tooth pulled or has a sports injury and gets prescribed painkillers,” Novak said. “These are important and relevant topics that need to be understood by our students and our community. And as a higher educational institution, scholarly research is important to us. LECOM, as a citizen of this community, has an opportunity to be involved and do something about it.”
Thursday’s presentation featured speakers across the spectrum. The day focused on four key areas: data and research, understanding Narcan, prevention education and the hurdles an addict faces to overcome the addiction.
“It’s going to be a long journey,” Novak said. “Today isn’t a magical wand we can wave and it will all be over. But we won’t stick our heads in the sand and not try to be a part of the solution.”