Speaking to a crowd of over 240 healthcare professionals that had gathered for Pacific Northwest University of Health Science’s (PNWU’s) regional opioid and trauma-informed care summit, PNWU Provost Dr. Edward Bilsky’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled a conversation he had with a young girl during a visit to a middle school in Biddeford, Maine.
Having volunteered to speak to a seventh-grade class about pain and addiction, Dr. Bilsky had decided to sidestep the conventional doom-and-gloom scare tactics that all-too-often shape such presentations and, instead, asked the students one simple question: “Can you recall an event that made you feel happy or fulfilled?”
When a hand shot up, he called on a young girl sitting before him. He admits that, at that point, he anticipating a myopic tale of receiving a new cell phone or tablet. Instead, her response hit directly at the heart of his humanistic-approach to trauma-informed care.
“She shared a story about a camping trip that she and her father had taken, and she seemed to almost glow as she recalled walking with him to a clearing in the trees, where they found themselves standing on the edge of a field glowing with fireflies,” he explained. “Listening to this little girl, I realized: this is what this is all about; this is what is needed, and what is so often missing.” His voice began to trail off as he looked down at the stage. When his eyes returned to the audience, the memory seemed to ignite a passion as luminous as those fireflies.
Her story — while simple — served as a reflection of the intimate connections that we all naturally crave, of the humanity within us all, and of the innocence that we all possess as children. Contrasted with the approximately 130 lives that are lost each day in the U.S. due to opioid overdoses, the thought brought tears to the eyes of the 32-year healthcare veteran.
“We can’t have this stigma,” he urged his audience. “We can’t have these barriers that are preventing care.” That stigma and those accompanying barriers were common threads that weaved their way throughout the health science university’s two-day regional summit on opioid use disorder (OUD) and trauma-informed care, titled “Trauma and the Opioid Crisis: Coming Together to Advance Prevention, Care, and Recovery.”
After all, this wasn’t a conversation fit for only healthcare professionals, and the statistics that filled the slideshows weren’t just figures: this was a vital discussion aimed at helping everyone who has ever had, or will ever have, their life altered by addiction and trauma, and those numbers — illustrating death, addiction and life-altering struggle — represented human beings just like the ones who sat in that Biddeford classroom.
“This Summit is where solutions are formulated, where stakeholders from federal to family convene, and where change begins,” said Dr. Keith Monosky, PNWU’s Executive Director of Interprofessional Practice and Education, and one of the leading organizers of the summit.
“This Summit is where solutions are formulated, where stakeholders from federal to family convene, and where change begins”
The event kicked-off on Wednesday, June 19, with a public forum at Yakima’s Eisenhower High School, where local psychologist Dr. Bridget Beachy and PNWU students presented “Understanding Your Teen and the Opioid Crisis” to a collection of concerned community members. On June 20 and 21, the Opioid Summit continued on the campus of PNWU, with regional speakers and national experts discussing addiction and trauma, presenting the latest information on managing patients with opioid use disorders, and sharing advice on how to tackle the stigma associated with opioid addiction.
Topics of the summit included the origins of addiction, medication myths, implementation of opioid prevention and treatment initiatives, innovative models of care, non-traditional treatments for pain, resilience training for physicians, and more. The Summit also featured a simulation of real-life scenarios of opioid crises and trauma-impacted cases. Presenters included renowned physician and researcher Dr. Vincent Felliti, one of the world’s foremost experts on childhood trauma and the co-principal investigator on the A.C.E. (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, Sue Birch, Director of Washington Healthcare Authority, PNWU President Dr. Michael Lawler, Charissa Fotinos, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Washington State Healthcare Authority, and many more.
During her keynote presentation, titled “Implementation of Opioid Prevention and Treatment Initiatives,” Dr. Fotinos illustrated the benefits of medication-assisted addiction treatments, but not before sharing a sage piece of advice with the crowd of healthcare providers. “We need to look at this as a problem much larger than just opiates,” she told them. “This is so much larger than that; this is a reflection of people losing hope.”
The event, which largely focused on regional strategies for addressing the crisis, also featured a keynote by Steven P. Stanos, DO, the Medical Director of Swedish Pain Services and Medical Director of Occupational Medicine Services at Swedish Health System in Seattle, Washington. During his address, Dr. Stanos highlighted the steps that the State of Washington has taken to tackle the problem.
“I think the State of Washington is ahead of the game,” he said. “House Bill 1427 came out, and the pain rules came into effect January 1. As of January 1, instead of having just chronic pain rules, the state decided to have preoperative, acute and sub-acute pain.” He went on to highlight a few legislative and regulatory prescribing updates, including the government placing a REMS (Risk Evaluations Mitigation Strategy) on all long-acting opioids. “The initial problem with a lot of overdose deaths was the result of people crushing and snorting, or melting and trying to inject their pills,” he explained. Updated guidelines help to make crushing or melting prescription pills more difficult, reducing the risk of those medications being misused. Additionally, Dr. Stanos spoke about initiatives currently being developed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) for specific pain conditions and how providers can prescribe for those conditions.
“There’s a lot of good things being done out there that we can apply within our own communities”
“There’s a lot of good things being done out there that we can apply within our own communities,” Dr. Stanos told the crowd.
During the closing remarks of his keynote address, Dr. Bilsky gazed optimistically at the 240+ healthcare providers who had come to learn more about how they can care for their own communities. “I am convinced that, with the minds gathered here in this room today, we can have an immediate impact on the challenges which we are facing as a society.”
“Healthcare outcomes are better when we are working together,” PNWU President Dr. Michel Lawler urged the audience. “It’s up to us to come together to combat the pain of trauma and addiction.”