URI students learn about opioid problems and responses

Students at the University of Rhode Island (URI) learned about preventing and responding to the opioid crisis at a special campus event in mid April. Thirty participants attended the event, which included a panel discussion and information about responding to an overdose situation. 

Work on the campus event began after a workshop earlier in the year for clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. The Ven. Janice Grinnell, chaplain from St. Augustine’s Episcopal Center at URI, approached one of the workshop speakers, Michelle McKenzie, about working together to develop an opportunity for students to gather for conversation and education. McKenzie is director of the Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI) program at Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. 

“After hearing the speakers at the clergy workshop, I saw a chance to help our URI students learn more about the reality of the opioid crisis here in our state and what they can do to help,” Grinnell said.  

An interactive panel discussion for students highlighted the URI event. It featured Kelley Ryan, URI assistant director, Substance Abuse Prevention Services; Jeffrey Bratberg, a URI pharmacy professor who has done groundbreaking work in engaging pharmacies and pharmacists in the opioid addiction crisis; Dr. Christopher Nassin from URI Health Services, and a student in recovery from addiction to opioids.   

The day also included a presentation on how to identify symptoms of a person who has overdosed and how to respond to the situation. “We learned that to save a life, we have only minutes to respond and that it is critical for Narconon or Naloxone to be administered,” Grinnell explained. PONI offered free Naloxone kits, and Narconon prescriptions could be purchased from a participating local pharmacy that attended.  

Grinnell said event coordinators were pleased by the response and plan to offer the program again during the Fall 2018 semester.   

At the clergy workshop earlier in the year, McKenzie, Dr. James McDonald of the Rhode Island Department of Health; and Michael Cerullo, a therapist who counsels young adults with addiction issues, outlined the current opioid situation in the state and shared reporting tools that can alert clergy to a local problem. The workshop also focused on spiritual aspects of treatment and recovery, and what faith communities can be doing to respond to local needs.