The first major project of Central Michigan University's newest interdisciplinary center is a formidable one worthy of the center's large community health scope.
It's the country's opioid drug crisis — a scourge so catastrophic that the president has considered declaring it a national emergency.
A Sept. 8 forum on opioids, such as heroin, and their effects in Michigan, is the first collaborative project for
CMU's Interdisciplinary Center for Community Health and Wellness, formed this year as a way to share university resources and information with communities.
Thomas Masterson, dean of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, said the timing is perfect, given the center’s opening and the growing public concern about the opioid issue.
“The opioid epidemic is a critical and complex social problem that cuts across and impacts our society,” said Dr. George Kikano, dean of the College of Medicine. “It’s going to take collaboration and creative solutions across many disciplines to mitigate this widespread problem.”
A collaborative effort
The colleges of medicine and health professions are hosting the forum, "Michigan's Opioid Crisis," along with the
College of Education and Human Services. It will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 8 at the medical school's Dow Chemical Co. Foundation Auditorium.
To prevent disease and promote health, the center connects faculty, staff and community experts for a team approach to education, research, projects and service learning.
Five colleges are pooling their resources to make the center a success: Medicine, Health Professions, Education and Human Services, the
College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences and the
College of Communication and Fine Arts.
"Our vision for the center is to create synergies and help stimulate interdisciplinary health and wellness education programs, projects, research and service-learning initiatives," Kikano said.
Larry Ashley, an adjunct professor for CMU's
master of public health and
physician assistant programs — and the forum's driving force — said he hopes the conference will spur addiction research at CMU.
'An equal-opportunity destroyer'
Ashley calls the nation's opioid epidemic "an equal-opportunity destroyer," and he should know. Addictions have been the focus of his work for more than 40 years.
The stereotypical junkie and street pusher are less common these days, Ashley said, and drug users today come from all walks of life.
Ashley said many people now turn to heroin after unsuccessful attempts to get opioid pain medication that their doctors have stopped prescribing and/or their insurance companies have stopped covering.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses in 2015 killed 33,091 people in the U.S. That's more than twice the 15,696 homicides reported by the FBI.
Kikano said the center has what it takes to present a forum on such a serious topic.
"We believe the center can contribute to bringing expertise together, and connecting that expertise with others in the community to build solutions that otherwise no single organization or institution could achieve," he said.
What's next for the center? Nothing specific yet, but Kikano said there's a lot of expertise to build on. He cited mobile health and wellness, autism, communications, public health and human services, and psychiatry and behavior treatments.
"Collaborations in many of these areas could be encouraged by the center in the future," he said.