By David Miller
Of Alabama’s 736 reported drug overdose deaths in 2015, 38 percent were caused by opioids, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation review of data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And though the rate of opioid pain reliever prescriptions in Alabama dipped slightly from 1.43 prescriptions per person in 2012 to 1.2 in 2015, the rate was still the highest in the United States, according to CDC data and an investigation by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently issued an executive order to combat the state’s current opioid crisis and develop strategies to reduce the number of deaths linked to opioid use. Ivey has appointed Dr. David L. Albright, associate professor and Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health in The University of Alabama School of Social Work, to serve on the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council. Albright is one of 36 members serving on the council.
Albright is co-chair of the council’s treatment and recovery support committee, which develops strategies to increase access to treatment for opioid use disorders and to services designed to support long-term recovery, Albright said. Sarah Harkless, director of substance abuse treatment and development for the Alabama department of mental health, is committee chair.
“Our committee really addresses a number of issues, from stigma to reimbursement, to evidence-based practices, to workforce training and development,” Albright said.
The executive order states that nearly 30,000 Alabamians over the age of 17 are estimated to be addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin. And though efforts to address specific aspects of the overdose crisis have been made, the epidemic requires “systemic change” and the development of a “unified, comprehensive strategy to guide, support and evaluate this change.”
The council will report to Ivey in December.
“It’s a serious situation that all citizens need to be aware of and help us with,” Ivey said. “We must find ways to curtail this crisis in Alabama. I look forward to reviewing the council’s recommendations for strategies to reduce the number of deaths and other effects caused by opioid misuse in our state.”
Albright is currently principal investigator for Alabama Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral Treatment (AL-SBIRT), a five-year, $8 million project with the Alabama department of mental health to expand substance abuse and mental health programs to underserved areas of West Alabama. The program, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, incorporates alcohol and drug screenings, brief interventions and referral to treatment into primary care settings to address the need for integrated substance-use disorder prevention.
Albright said addressing the opioid overdose and abuse crisis is a “layered challenge.”
“One of the state’s challenges, especially when talking about serving adult populations, rural and medically underserved counties in places like West Alabama and the Black Belt region, is the state’s shortage of behavioral workforce, and that would include social workers,” Albright said. “That’s where the School of Social Work has stepped up, along with some of the efforts we’ve seen at UA, in preparing students to become part of this workforce.”
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.