Battling the Opioid Crisis in Alabama

OTI logo with four gears working together

November 21, 2019

AUBURN, Alabama – The opioid epidemic has overtaken the United States in recent years with Alabama being one of the most affected. In response, Harrison School of Pharmacy faculty members Karen Marlowe, Brent Fox, and Haley Phillippe joined together to create the Opioid Training Institute, or OTI.

“Alabama is facing a complex public health crisis related to opioids, and our state, like much of the U.S., is seeing increased numbers of opioid use disorder and overdose,” said Phillippe, associate clinical professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice. “The OTI provided education and an opportunity for dif¬ferent groups to discuss possible strategies for fighting the crisis.”

The programs were divided with eight focused on community leaders and eight for health care providers. More than 1,000 attended sessions in areas such as Birmingham, Cullman, Dothan, Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile, Opelika, Troy, and Tuscaloosa to learn how they could make an impact in batting the epidemic.

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes heroin and prescrip¬tion pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, mor¬phine, and fentanyl. These drugs work by binding to the body’s opioid receptors in the reward center of the brain, diminishing pain and producing feelings of relaxation and euphoria. With a high rate of mental health disorder diagnosis among those with opioid use disorder, the Alabama Department of Mental Health supported the creation and implementation of the program, educating participants on the issue.

Peaople sitting on stage at a table

A panel of experts discuss the opioid epidemic and field questions at one of the community events.

A group stands around samples of the naloxone drug

Dr. Karen Marlowe demonstrates how to use naloxone, the opioid antidote, during one of the sessions.

“Patients with opioid use disorder need to be supported with mental health resources and part of our educational efforts focused on the resources available in our state,” said Marlowe, professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and assistant dean on the Mobile pharmacy campus. “Among those with a diagnosis of opioid use disorder there is a high rate of other mental health diagnosis including anxiety, depression, post-trau¬matic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. Raising awareness to these co-existing disorders is an important step to directing patients to appropriate treatment.”

The community leader programs included participants from a variety of professions, including teachers, social workers, coun¬selors, faith-based leaders, law enforcement, state and local leaders, and behavioral health specialists. Because of their access to large segments of the population, these leaders can often be the first to recognize a problem.

“We began each community leader event by discussing the scope of the problem, nationally and locally,” said Fox, associ¬ate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy. “Many attendees expressed genuine alarm at the extent of the problem, especially in our state, but the purpose was not simply to shock. We devoted significant time to meth¬ods, resources, and tools attendees could leverage in their spe¬cific roles to address the opioid crisis in Alabama.”

The health care provider sessions included such professionals as dentists, dental hygienists, pharmacists, pharmacy techni¬cians, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and social work¬ers. These sessions stressed the need for collaboration and how mental health plays a significant role.

“An important part of these training programs has been to pro¬vide information about prescribing opioids according to current guidelines and monitoring patients who have been prescribed opioids,” said Marlowe.

The opioid epidemic is one that knows no neighborhood, class, or age and impacts every sector of the state, including health care, education, business, and local government. For this reason, as part of the pharmacy school’s mission to care for those in Alabama, it was imperative to reach into the communities and provide support.

“As a land-grant university, we have a special role in providing outreach and education throughout our state,” said Phillippe. “When our state is facing a public health crisis, it is imperative we utilize our school and university resources to lead the fight against the crisis.”

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About the Harrison School of Pharmacy

Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School’s commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn’s overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit

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Last Updated: November 21, 2019