Marshall University experts to speak at national drug abuse summit

A panel of Marshall University faculty is shedding light on substance use disorder treatments and solutions in West Virginia at The National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit this week in Atlanta, Georgia.

The summit is the nation’s largest conference dedicated to the opioid crisis and brings experts from all over the country to discuss the epidemic on a national level.

Amy Saunders, director of the Marshall University Wellness Center and co-chairman of the Substance Abuse Coalition, said the team submitted a proposal to present for a new track at the summit, focusing on how families are impacted by substance abuse.

“We’re going to be looking at how this affects children and families from a biological model,” Saunders said. “What do the drugs do? What are some of the issues? What are some of the signs and symptoms?”

Saunders said the group will also look at the issue from psychological and social aspects, specifically focusing on how the community can become more involved.

“We’re also going to be looking at it from a community aspect,” Saunders said. “So what kinds of systems can we be in in terms of schools in offering services to these children and these families so that we can help individuals overcome a lot of the barriers of this issue in terms of treatment.”

Lyn O’Connell, clinical coordinator of Marshall’s Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), said she will be focused on sharing the strengths of Appalachia when it comes to families and how to better utilize these strengths in the region.

“Substance use disorders, or SUD, not only affect the individual but rather all individuals in the family system,” O’Connell said. “Research indicates that couple and family-based therapies are some of the most effective treatments for SUD, however they are vastly underutilized in West Virginia. It is important to support each individual in the family and promote healthy families in order to break the inter-generational cycle of SUD. Families hold the key.”

O’Connell said substance use disorders break down family and social relationships and that rebuilding these relationships is vital.

“It is necessary to build these back up through evidence-based therapies if we hope to impact those currently struggling and prevent future epidemics,” O’Connell said. “It is necessary for us to focus on strengthening the family system to build resiliency and hope in our communities.”

O’Connell and the rest of the panel will be presenting evidence and research at the summit which supports family-based interventions.

Saunders said the summit pushes for a collaboration from multiple partners, from behavioral health providers and law enforcement to the communities and towns struggling with the issue.

“We’ve had a lot of historical trauma in West Virginia over the decades,” Saunders said. “We have a lot of socioeconomic factors that play into this, with poverty and unemployment and issues like that, it’s important that we start to map out and look into them. Those are underlying issues that we have and are going to have to address if we are going to fix this issue.”

O’Connell said she and her colleagues are looking forward to showing national figures at the summit the groundbreaking solutions forming in Huntington.

“West Virginia and the Huntington community in particular have often been portrayed poorly both from outsiders but also by those locally feeling discouraged and overwhelmed,” O’Connell said. “While we shouldn’t deny our problems, we have many innovative and inspirational solutions growing right here in town. It is exciting that these will be recognized at the national level through this summit.”

Marianna Footo-Linz, chairman of the psychology department, Conrae Lucas-Adkins, assistant professor of school psychology, and Todd Davies, associate director of research of addiction sciences at Marshall will be joining Saunders and O’Connell in speaking at the summit.

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected].