Fred Schuster, regional director for Region VI of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), visited with the Texas A&M Opioid Task Force Friday.

Texas A&M Opioid Task Force expanding outreach

Efforts attract attention of U.S. Health and Human Services
June 21, 2019

The Texas A&M University Health Science Center Opioid Task Force has made great strides in research, education and community outreach about the opioid epidemic—which has caused the deaths of more than 130 Americans daily from opioid overdoses—and these efforts are capturing national attention. The Health Science Center’s commitment to training all health science students on opioid overdose prevention education and administration of naloxone (the opioid overdose reversal agent) has been ground breaking. Additionally, the task force is dedicated to community outreach and has trained nearly 1,500 law enforcement and first responders in Texas.

Opioid Task Force member Joy Alonzo, M.Engineering, PharmD, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, said the trainings are saving lives. “As our understanding of the opioid problem in Texas matures, so does our understanding of effective approaches—and this is one of the most immediate paths to helping our communities.”

Under the leadership of Alonzo, Texas A&M is mentoring more than 30 health science centers nationwide to replicate the Opioid Task Force model to train health science center students in the principles of harm reduction and opioid overdose recognition and reversal.

Those efforts have captured the attention of Fred Schuster, regional director for Region VI of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who visited Texas A&M and the surrounding community to learn more about local efforts and shed light on HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s priorities and activities surrounding the topic.

Schuster participated in a community program on “Reducing the Stigma of Addiction.” The event was co-hosted by the Health Science Center with Recovery Oriented Systems of Care, and brought national context to local efforts.

Schuster met with several members of the Opioid Task Force, including Chair Marcia G. Ory, PhD, MPH, associate vice president of strategic partnerships and initiatives at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Regents and Distinguished Professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

The meeting addressed current statistics describing the nature of the epidemic in Texas, an update on health professional and community training; current knowledge of drug misuse deterrent compounds; and clinical perspectives on telehealth and mental health initiatives, as well as feedback from opioid task force student ambassadors.

The Opioid Task Force has come a long way in raising awareness of the opioid crisis, improving the training of the next generation of health care professionals, and ensuring that they are ready to fill gaps in care for mental and behavioral health, especially in rural and underserved areas.

“The Opioid Task Force is dedicated to interventions that will change the tide of the opioid epidemic. Our efforts are designed to support current providers and better align meaningful prevention and recovery efforts,” Ory said. “We are constantly looking at how we can bridge research, education and practice and work collaboratively across campus and the community.”

 

— Kelli Reynolds