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Academic event stresses teamwork in treating opioid addiction

February 17, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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2016 Husson University event

An event taking place this month at Husson University in Bangor, Maine calls attention to the interdisciplinary, teamwork-focused approach that many see as the healthcare community's only hope for stemming the opioid crisis.

For the fifth year, Husson students from numerous undergraduate and graduate degree programs will gather for an Interprofessional Evening of Conversation, an event unfolding in a fashion similar to “grand rounds.” This year, however, the patient case that will be presented on the evening of Feb. 23 will be that of an opioid-dependent person with additional health concerns.

“We felt the need to expose students to this issue, and encourage them to work with each other,” Husson associate professor of education John Yasenchak, EdD, tells Addiction Professional. “The opioid issue here in the state is very serious at this time, as it is in all of New England.”

In fact, heroin and fentanyl overdoses continue to be on the rise in Maine, which has kept the subject of integrated care approaches prominent. “A big part of that is the ability to collaborate across disciplines,” says Yasenchak.

Event details

The event is expected to involve participation from around 300 students preparing for careers in mental health counseling, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, healthcare studies and education. The university recruits an actor to portray the patient case that is being presented, and that person receives a one-on-one live interview that brings in perspectives from the various disciplines.

“It takes a whole year to create the script,” says Yasenchak, a credentialed addiction counselor and clinical supervisor who teaches mental health counseling students at the university.

The large group then breaks up into smaller interdisciplinary groups of around 10 students each to discuss the case. The goal here is mainly to arrive at a case conceptualization, which may or may not outline a treatment plan as well. At the heart of the exercise is giving students the experience of communicating across disciplines, Yasenchak says. After the small-group discussions, the larger group reconvenes.

In his own teaching, “I always focus on the communication piece,” Yasenchak says. “It is important for mental health counseling students to communicate with pharmacists, nurses, occupational therapists. These are the people who wrap around the care of the patient.”

And in the case of the patient with a substance use disorder, “We all see these patients on one level or another,” Yasenchak says.