About 115 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose — almost five every hour — and the numbers are increasing. Millions more misuse prescription opioid medications, or use illicit opioids, with an annual economic toll of $115 billion.
A wide range of University of Michigan researchers are working to tackle the root causes of, and potential solutions for, this national crisis. Now, a new network encourages and coordinates their efforts across campus to find solutions to what the federal government has declared a public health emergency.
The new Opioid Solutions community, a resource developed by the U-M’s Office of Research, Injury Prevention Center and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, serves as a central hub for U-M research, educational activities and community outreach related to opioids.
“The opioid epidemic is now the single deadliest drug epidemic in United States history, but in order to address the full complexity of this public health threat, we have to integrate the perspectives of multiple disciplines to find solutions,” said S. Jack Hu, vice president for research.
The network draws on nearly 100 U-M faculty — in fields ranging from psychiatry, pharmacy and public policy to basic science, dentistry and law — whose research explores opioid misuse and overdose. Some examples include:
• Chad Brummett, associate professor of anesthesiology and co-director of the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, who with colleagues developed a comprehensive approach for surgical teams to prescribe opioids more wisely.
The team also researches the role of surgery-related prescriptions in increasing the likelihood of opioid misuse, and is working through the Precision Health Initiative to find new ways of tailoring pain treatment to suit patients’ characteristics.
• Amy Bohnert, associate professor of psychiatry, studies opioid addiction treatment and overdose, and explores ways to reduce misuse and overdose through counseling.
She also leads a program that is offering help to physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants across Michigan who want to begin prescribing medications that can help people overcome opioid addiction.
• Rebecca Haffajee, assistant professor of health management and policy, is also an attorney whose work intersects law and public health.
Her research looks at the effects of behavioral health and pharmaceutical policies on opioid prescribing, including initiatives aimed at reducing “doctor shopping” by people dependent on prescription opioids.
Opioid Solutions not only encourages collaboration among researchers, but it also keeps federal, state and local health agencies apprised of U-M projects and programs that aim to reduce and prevent opioid misuse and overdose.
“Our University of Michigan faculty members are a vital resource for state and federal policymakers, community leaders and health care providers who are working to prevent and treat the consequences of opioid misuse and overdose,” said John Ayanian, director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
More than 42,000 Americans died in 2016 as a result of opioid overdose. The nature of the epidemic is evolving to include illicitly-sourced opioids, but demand for these drugs is intimately related to an increase in opioid prescriptions. The number of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, yet federal data shows no overall change in the amount of pain Americans reported.
As an emergency medicine physician and substance abuse researcher, Rebecca Cunningham works with legislators and her physician colleagues to inform safe prescribing practices and reverse the opioid epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic in our communities does not discriminate by race or socioeconomic status,” said Cunningham, associate vice president for research who helped develop Opioid Solutions. “I have seen firsthand that this medical illness affects everyone — rich, poor, rural, urban, educated and uneducated, young adolescents and elderly adults.”