The University of Georgia recently hosted a daylong symposium that brought faculty members and policymakers together to explore current research and seek solutions to the nation’s opioid epidemic, a widespread issue that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resulted in almost 50,000 deaths nationwide in 2017.
Fazal Khan, an associate professor in the School of Law who chaired the planning committee for the symposium, opened the dialogue with the current state of the national epidemic and emphasized the desperate need for interdisciplinary partnerships.
“[The opioid epidemic] is predicted to get worse before it gets better,” said Khan. “It’s really imperative that we address this problem. Part of this effort is to catalyze collaboration, catalyze discussions.”
The keynote lecture at the Oct. 20 symposium was presented by journalist Beth Macy, author of the New York Times best-seller “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America.” Macy has spent decades following families affected by the opioid epidemic in rural, suburban and farmland“ cities, documenting the harrowing realities of opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths.
“There are people in my book who died before I had the time to get home and type up my interview,” Macy recalled. “No one needs to wait to hit bottom.”
Macy’s lecture explored various facets of the opioid epidemic, the unique solutions needed and steps necessary to instill change in our policies that go beyond one single discipline. From relaying the haunting stories of loved ones lost to exploring policy change, Macy urged listeners to unite and take action.
“We’ve got to do better than this,” Macy said. “We need to get out of our silos, just like you guys are doing. The big problem is not that there aren’t efforts, but it’s like they’re not working in tandem with each other.”
Following Macy’s lecture, the symposium included panel discussions that featured faculty members from the university’s College of Public Health, College of Pharmacy, College of Veterinary Medicine, School of Law, School of Social Work, School of Public and International Affairs and Terry College of Business. Additional panelists included representatives from the CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health and Northeast Georgia Health System.
Rita Noonan, who oversees the majority of opioid addiction prevention efforts that the CDC funds, delivered the lunchtime keynote. Noonan described efforts of the CDC to aid in the prevention of opioid addiction and tactics to combat the epidemic that she described as “the largest public health problem of our lifetime.”
The symposium concluded with poster presentations, during which faculty members and students from UGA, Emory University, Augusta University and other organizations highlighted results of their research and discussed current projects.
The Interdisciplinary Opioid Epidemic Symposium was sponsored by the School of Law, School of Social Work, College of Public Health and Office of Academic Programs.