Ohio University hosted an Opioid Workforce Expansion Project earlier this year. The annual conference seeks to combat the opioid epidemic through education.
“We’ve learned that, during the pandemic, the opioid epidemic really got worse, not better. It did not halt, and it will be several years before we know the final numbers,” Dr. Sheerlena Buchman, an assistant professor in Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions said.
Buchman, who was recently recognized by the Midwestern Nursing Research Society, for her work in opioid overdose treatment, said that despite the declining attention the issue receives, opioid abuse is still a major issue, especially in Southeast Ohio. She also said that’s why education through events like the Opioid Workforce Expansion Project is more important than ever.
The project was brought about by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that encourages substance abuse treatment skills in interprofessional students, professionals and community members.
“This was my first large grant to work on, our former School of Nursing Director, Dr. Deborah Henderson, was the original PI and upon her retirement, I became the PI. It was a learning process for me,” Buchman said. “Many members of the grant team came together and we all sat down and talked about our different professions and how each profession can complement each other. Each individual profession can make a difference, but through teamwork, we can make a bigger difference, that is how we focused on the grant and the conference.”
The event featured a keynote speech from Lori Chriss, the director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, a panel discussion from local mental health and addiction professionals, a question and answer session and multiple interprofessional student presentations.
“The conference was phenomenal. It really highlighted the students that were placed in interprofessional teams,” Buchman said. “Students were represented from social work, nursing and counselor education. The learning and impact of each group was way beyond what the grant team could have imagined. The conference was a huge success.”
“This project helps to educate. (At) Ohio University we empower through education,” Buchman said. “When it comes to Opioid and Substance Use Disorders, we have to let the stigma fall. There are still healthcare providers that have a stigma of not wanting to take care of someone with a substance abuse disorder … and getting past that stigma is one of the best things we can do through education.”
Buchman added that one of the biggest goals of the project is to teach providers how to care for patients in a way that maintains the patient’s dignity. Through the Opioid Workforce Expansion Project (OWEP), Buchman and her grant team want those suffering from opioid and substance abuse to feel validated and understand that there is a path beyond addiction.
Buchman also noted that self-harm is directly linked to substance and opioid abuse. She said that the rise in suicides over the course of the pandemic will have a correlation to the rise in substance abuse over that time. Harm prevention and trauma-informed care were major focuses of the conference. Knowing how to handle conversations about suicide and trauma is paramount for these healthcare professionals.
Despite the challenges that come with combating opioid abuse, Buchman and her grant team believe that change can happen through projects like the Opioid Workforce Expansion. She hopes to expand the conference in the coming years and sees the conference as a true sign of encouragement that change is being made.
The OWEP team consists of: from the School of Nursing, Dr. Sherleena Buchman, PI, and Dr. Char Miller; from Counselor Education: Dr. Mona Robinson, Dr. Yegan Pillay, Dr. Adrienne Erby, and Dr. Bilal Urkmez; from Social Work Dr. Terry Cluse-Tolar, Dr. Mingun Lee, and Mrs. Kerri Ann Shaw, from the Ohio Alliance for Population Health Mr. Orman Hall.