Wayne State School of Social Work lends addiction, policy expertise to university task force on opioid misuse


The School of Social Work is contributing to university-wide efforts to strengthen Wayne State curriculum in the area of opioid misuse.

In response to President Obama’s national initiative aimed at reducing opioid addiction and promoting new treatment alternatives, Wayne State University established a task force on the Safe Use of Controlled Substances. The group is helping to address the nation’s worsening opioid misuse epidemic through the training of health professionals. The WSU Task Force will better prepare students to prescribe controlled medications and to identify, prevent, and treat overdoses and addiction. Under the leadership of Wayne State Vice President for Health Affairs David Hefner, School of Medicine (SOM) Associate Vice President of Government Health Affairs Doug Skrzyniarz, and Deans Laurie Lauzon Clabo (College of Nursing), Serrine Lau (Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), Jack Sobel (SOM), and Cheryl Waites (School of Social Work), the task force brought together faculty and staff leadership from the four schools/colleges as well as Student Affairs and WSU Physician Group.

The task force developed a list of core priorities that has been agreed to by all members and their respective deans in time for Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week (Sept. 18-24) and a Sept. 13 visit (https://www.med.wayne.edu/news/2016/09/14/national-drug-control-policy-director-discusses-opioids-addiction-treatment-at-school-of-medicine-lecture/) to Wayne State’s campus by Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy.

Representing Social Work on the task force are Associate Professor Stella Resko and Research Assistant Elizabeth Agius. Resko, who serves as coordinator the school’s interdisciplinary graduate Certificate on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies (https://socialwork.wayne.edu/news.php?id=14289), has published extensively on the relationship between substance use and violence, particularly among women and adolescents. An evaluator and researcher with a focus on adolescent substance abuse prevention and treatment, Agius is currently evaluating two grants for the State of Michigan, one aimed at youth prevention and the other to revise the practice and policy of treatment for youth ages 16 to 21.

According to Resko, the core priorities developed by the task force will serve as a guiding principles for enhancing course content on opioid misuse and overdose prevention. The priorities, which will help shape the curriculum in medicine, pharmacy, nursing and social work, reflect social work’s understanding of the biopsychosocial factors that influence addiction and recovery.

“It’s important to have social workers involved in developing these priorities because we are the main providers of substance use prevention and treatment services in the United States,” said Resko. “Social workers encounter substance misuse in a wide array of practice settings. This can be an opportunity for social workers to detect and address opioid misuse in patients who have not self-diagnosed or sought treatment.”

According to Agius, opioid deaths in Michigan are climbing.

“Michigan has higher-than-national-average rates for prescription drug prescribing and, consequently, drug poisoning deaths,” she said. Agius noted that in 2014, Michigan ranked 16th in the country for drug poisoning deaths, making the work of the task force critical.

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