Penn State helps tackle opioid epidemic through consortium, public media project

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The strategies being employed by Penn State to help combat the opioid epidemic were discussed today, Sept. 12, during an update to the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.  

Presentations were given about the Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (CCSA) — located within the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State — and Overcoming an Epidemic: Opioids in Pennsylvania— a cross-platform media and outreach project produced by WPSU Penn State.

In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses — more than twice than from motor vehicle accidents or gun violence, and Pennsylvania had the third highest overdose rate in the country.

The CCSA, launched in 2018, leverages the vast scope of researcher-practitioner experience to support, inform and improve programs that address prevention, addiction, and treatment and recovery, while supporting affected families and communities.  

The CCSA hopes to tackle the opioid crisis and all substance misuse, create a continuum of care and conduct outreach to influence the public, students and policy makers, according to Stephanie Lanza, CCSA interim director and director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. 

The CCSA will be hiring 12 faculty members to bolster scientific leadership for research, teaching and outreach and is preparing for its second annual conference that will focus on comprehensive, state-wide solutions to address substance misuse. Since its inception, the CCSA has awarded seed grants for 13 projects to help fuel innovative solutions, and established several faculty-community partnerships at Penn State Brandywine, Greater Allegheny and University Park campuses, to solve problems at local levels. 

In addition, Penn State Harrisburg recently established the Douglas W. Pollock Center for Addiction Outreach and Research. The center will play a key part in the consortium, helping further connect the campus to the community and veteran populations while drawing on the expertise of researchers, educators and practitioners from across the University.

According to Lanza, the consortium also continues to pursue external funding to address the future challenges of substance misuse as Penn State faculty are connecting and forming partnerships with one another.

“We anticipate these and other activities to sharpen our focus, lead to novel solutions and escalate our capacity to impact Pennsylvania and beyond,” she said.

From WPSU, which is an Outreach service of Penn State, Overcoming an Epidemic: Opioids in Pennsylvania hopes toraise awareness of evidence-based practices, programs and policies to prevent and treat opioid abuse, and to identify barriers that prevent the adoption and spread of effective practices and policies.

A 30-minute television show will air at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 19 on WPSU-TV and explore some of the issues facing Pennsylvania as it battles its opioid crisis and how evidence-based solutions can help turn the tide in the fight against opioid misuse.

Cheraine Stanford, WPSU’s director of content strategy, said the project’s goal is to help save lives by creating media that will educate and motivate through various forms, including through television, radio, podcasts, the website and community events.

“Substance abuse, including the opioid crisis, is one of the most challenging issues facing Pennsylvania,” Stanford said. “As central Pennsylvania's public media station, we felt it was important to not just look at the problems being caused by the epidemic but what was being done to try to solve them."

The project website consists of strategies used to fight the opioid epidemic presented through videos and podcasts produced by WPSU. Strategies featured in the project include reducing stigma, prevention options, legal system programs, care resource networks, family support, rural care and education and recovery. 

“These efforts to address the challenges of Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis speak to the heart of our mission: to identify critical issues and utilize the expertise of our faculty and our diverse University outreach units to engage communities in creating viable and sustainable solutions,” said Tracey Huston, vice president for Penn State Outreach.

Visit the CCSA website for more information about the consortium, and the WPSU website for more information about the cross-platform project.