Education key to addressing opioid crisis, expert says at Coralville conference

Coralville conference aimed to help clinicians identify, treat addiction

Dr. David Mee-Lee answers questions during a conference on the opioid crisis at the State Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville, January 18, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Dr. David Mee-Lee answers questions during a conference on the opioid crisis at the State Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville, January 18, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CORALVILLE — Furthering education on addiction and addiction treatment may be the key to addressing the opioid crisis that has killed tens of thousands across the country, according to a California-based psychiatrist.

Spreading awareness was the goal of Dr. David Mee-Lee, national expert on substance use and substance use disorders who spoke in Coralville Thursday as part of a two-day conference to help health care professionals gain the tools to identify and treat addiction in their practices.

While the conference delved into all forms of addiction — including gambling, nicotine and alcohol — the all-day conference focused in part on the ongoing opioid crisis.

Opioids are a class of drugs — both legal, such oxycodone, and illegal, such as heroin — that have pain-killing effects.

The opioid crisis has led to 180 related-deaths in Iowa in 2016 — a sharp increase from the 23 related-deaths in 2000.

Part of the solution to address the epidemic as well as other addictions, Mee-Lee said, is to educate clinicians and other medical professionals early on.

“I think at every level education and medical schools and specialty training has to take it seriously and not just be on a checklist of things,” he said.


Mee-Lee said the opioid crisis should also be addressed from a public health standpoint similar to the model used to cut back public tobacco use. It was a long-term process, but eventually was effective, he said.

“It’s important to know that when you do get clients and they do have addictions to opioids, or any kind of addiction, you really have to know and figure out what’s the best treatment for them,” said Ed Rund, a clinical social worker at Center Associates in Marshalltown.

He was one of Thursday’s attendees hoping to get more information on opioid addiction treatment.

Thursday’s conference at the State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa was attended by about 100 people, including pharmacists, nurses, doctors, social workers, addiction counselors and more.

“This one is well-attended, I’m gratified by that,” Mee-Lee said.

He added that the opioid crisis has been good in terms of raising public awareness about addiction.

The first step of planning the conference was to conduct a needs assessment and how to address the issues.

“The identified need was a better education about substance abuse treatment and medically induced treatment,” said Ron Berg, chief executive officer of Prelude Behavioral Services and a conference organizer.

“My position is that most people wouldn’t deny someone who is diabetic the use of insulin. So we shouldn’t deny appropriate medications to help someone with addiction.”

Another 100 people were scheduled to attend Friday’s session — which is closed to the public — with an additional 50 people on the event’s waiting list, organizers said.


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The conference was sponsored by Prelude Behavioral Services, Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa and Center for Alcohol and Drug Services, all Iowa-based health care organizations.

Thursday’s and Friday’s events were funded by a State Targeted Response to the Opioids Crisis grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal public health agency.

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