Think back to the time before Covid-19. Another epidemic was ravaging America, leaving thousands of grieving families to mourn the loss of loved ones to opioids, pain killers and other addictions. As we've lost hundreds of thousands of Americans to the virus, deaths from overdoses and addiction haven't slowed down. If anything, the stress of the pandemic has made it worse. Last year, almost 72,000 people died from overdoses--more than died from HIV, gun violence or traffic accidents. Early numbers for 2020 suggest that these deaths are trending up an additional 13 percent.
The Center for Addiction and Pain Prevention and Intervention (CAPPI) at UAB is launching an all-out fight to save lives and improve outcomes. "The center isn't a place. It's a resource," Karen Cropsey, PsyD, co-director of CAPPI and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology said. "We're creating a synergy of expertise to make information more accessible, to facilitate the conversations that lead to innovative research, and to provide outreach to help more people who are dealing with addiction and pain find effective treatment sooner."
Cropsey, along with 10 other clinical experts from three different schools and more than eight specialties, make up the initial core of investigators, educators and clinicians specializing in addiction and pain.
"Through the center, we are creating a collaborative environment that should attract more investigators conducting cutting-edge research that should complement the work our research team is already doing," she said. "This will also connect philanthropists with opportunities to have an impact on moving knowledge and treatment forward to help free people from addiction and improve quality of life for those suffering with chronic pain."
Burel Goodin, PhD
Co-director Burel Goodin, PhD is a clinical health psychologist who specializes in pain-related behavioral medicine.
"We also want to develop better interventions to prevent addiction and to erase the stigma that delays many people from getting the help they need. You can't necessarily see how much a person is suffering. We need to debunk the myth that it's a character issue. Addiction and pain are disease processes and they need real, evidence-based treatment," Goodin said.
In addition to supporting the School of Medicine as well as research and clinical programs across the UAB campus, CAPPI will also be a resource for health care providers throughout the region.
"Physicians can check our website to learn about new treatment options and we can connect them with someone who has expertise in their area of interest," Goodin said.
"We're also doing outreach through our website with zoom lectures and topics in our CAPPI chat feature," Cropsey said. "Patients, family and anyone who is interested can access the information. Recent topics have included the current status of the legal use of cannabis in health, and updates on opioids.
"Another interesting project CAPPI is facilitating relates to the training of professionals preparing to work in the fields of addiction and pain. In addition to fostering mentorship, we're matching up those in training with people who have lived the reality of addiction or chronic pain. One of our fellows was paired with a mother who had lost one son to an opioid death and had another in prison. Another was matched with someone who had been addicted to heroin and recovered. This gives our future professionals the direct perspective of real life rather than reading about it second hand."
Part of the center's educational mission also includes improving the understanding of how substance use and pain intersect. The monthly CAPPI Journal Club and the Pain and Addiction Special Interest Group are aimed at growing the breadth of expertise among UAB clinicians and researchers.
Alabama has higher than average levels of addiction, drug use and chronic pain. One factor may be the role of poverty and the number of people doing physically demanding work that takes a toll on the body. Our people need better treatment and more effective interventions to prevent addiction. Those are two of the top goals CAPPI hopes to achieve as it grows into the future.
To learn more about resources and outreach programs, go to the center's website, www.uab.edu/cappi.