The Research Triangle Park

RTP180 Recap: Opioids

By Author Feb 20, 2018

Our February 15 RTP180 was special for several reasons. It was our first event of 2018 (thanks to last month’s snowstorm), it was completely sold out, and it was the night we said a fond farewell to our emcee of five years, Will Hardison, and welcomed Wade Minter as the new face of RTP180.

This was also a heavy topic for us to tackle. Opioids have been referred to in the media as a crisis and an epidemic, and have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States. Read on for a summary of each of our speakers’ topics, or watch the event in full here.

Dr. Lauren McCormack—RTI International

Dr. McCormack is a specialist in health-related decision making and behaviors. She started her talk by sharing some sobering statistics on the epidemic, such as the average number of annual deaths from opioid overdose in the US (28,000) and the annual healthcare costs of opioid abuse ($26 billion). Dr. McCormack then briefly explained a newly launched RTI study that, in partnership with UNC, Duke, and Vanderbilt, will examine long term, chronic pain management, and the roles of both patients and healthcare providers in deciding how to treat it. Watch Dr. McCormack’s talk here.

Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta—UNC Chapel Hill

An expert at the evolution of the opioid epidemic in the United States, Dr. Dasgupta focused his time on the role of socioeconomic disparity and racial bias in how drug abuse is both perceived and treated. He noted that a number of economic and systematic issues have been in place for many years that have culminated in the crisis we are facing today, including the over-prescription of these medications. Dr. Dasgupta explained that there is no simple way to treat opioid addiction, and preventive measures are key. Watch Dr. Dasgupta’s talk here.

Scott Luetgenau—Southlight Healthcare

Southlight Healthcare is a substance abuse treatment center in Raleigh. Scott manages their opioid treatment program, and shared an example of the phone calls he receives from concerned family members and friends seeking help for loved ones who have fallen into addiction. He acknowledged similar findings about racial bias as Dr. Dasgupta, before explaining the significance of mental illness and brain chemistry when it comes to addiction. Opioids are unique in the way they take hold in the user’s brain, and some people may be more predisposed to this type of addiction based on things like their mental state, socioeconomic status, and past traumas. Watch Scott’s talk here

Mike Bajorek—Town of Cary

Did you know there is an opioid problem in Cary? Opioid overdoses in the town increased dramatically in 2017. Currently, data taken from water sample analysis has proven to be an accurate indicator of opioid usage in communities. Mike correlated the solution to Michael Lewis’s book “Moneyball: The Art of Losing an Unfair Game”; only through statistical analysis can we discover and treat the root of the problem. Cary has partnered with MIT to test its waste water for prescription medications to gather similar data that Mike says will aid them in addressing the growing problem. The town also provides other initiatives, including safe, no-questions-asked drug disposal, at its offices. Watch Mike’s talk here.

We closed the evening with a lightning panel—watch it here. Thanks to our speakers, and everyone who submitted questions using the hashtag #RTP180. 

Our next topic is Blockchain, and you can reserve your tickets now. We’ll hear from local experts on what this technology is (there is more to it than Bitcoin) and what it could mean for the future. See you there!