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Opioid education, research hits all ages in Michigan

BY Sunday, November 24, 2019 01:33pm

As Michigan universities land tens of millions of dollars in opioid research funding, students at all age levels are learning lessons about the epidemic.

This fall was the first semester the state’s Michigan Model for Health — a K-12 curriculum covering health and sex education — included portions on opioid use prevention. 

The Michigan Model for Health curriculum “addresses social and emotional health, and addresses safety,” said Karen Yoder at the Adolescent and School Health Unit within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “In all of those areas, we took the content and ramped it up a bit to be more specific about opioid misuse prevention.”

Based on legislation passed in 2017, a state commission directed agency officials and experts to determine how opioid education could be included in classrooms. Curriculum updates are now available for teachers and cover all grade levels. Lesson plans on substance abuse were modified and “beefed up” to include a focus on opioids, Yoder said. Other aspects include family resource sheets that involve “family engagement,” she added.

“In high school, it’s more intense around what to do to stay safe and stay away from substances that aren’t healthy,” she said.

Dr. Chad Brummett, an associate professor of anesthesiology and co-director of the Michigan Opioid Prescribing and Engagement Network (OPEN) at the University of Michigan, has been following the revamped curriculum. State officials are allowing Brummett and others to “enhance” the modified curriculum by writing a musical on opioids to “teach kids about opioids before first exposure,” he said.

“Painless: The Opioid Musical” — a collaboration between Michigan OPEN and other University of Michigan departments — will premier next month for middle school and high school students. It’s based on true stories of opioid addiction and recovery.

Meanwhile, the state’s leading research universities have recently landed tens of millions of dollars to supplement ongoing opioid research.

In September, the University of Michigan received $25.5 million from the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Initiative for five different research areas. These include treating chronic back pain without opioids, emergency department risk screening and virtual counseling, and effective school curricula.

Brummett’s research focus includes acute pain prescribing, how patients are first introduced to opioids and how medication is disposed. He said the funding will supplement several ongoing research projects at the university.

In recent months, grant funding has also been directed to Western Michigan University to advance research on faster turnaround times for testing in opioid-related deaths, as well as funding occupational therapists in underserved communities. Michigan State University has also launched the Opioid Prevention and Education Network to coordinate with nonprofits and local organizations fighting the opioid epidemic.

Although opioid treatment advocates and state officials say access to Naloxone, clean syringes and medication-based treatment have proven effective, Brummett says researchers “still don’t have a great understanding” of aspects of the epidemic involving who’s at risk and the “intersection of pain and poorly managed behavioral health.”

“Many people with opioid use disorder got their opioids for pain, but they’re often not effective,” Brummett said. “If you add in unmanaged behavioral health issues, that can be a real problem.”

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