KINGSTON, R.I., Sept. 8, 2017 — As the opioid addiction epidemic continues to make headlines and take thousands of lives across the nation, a University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy student has been doing what she can to help combat this public health threat in her hometown of Laconia, N.H.
Anne Dionne, a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) student, devoted her summer to helping a local anti-substance abuse coalition and working alongside Laconia police officer Eric Adams. He is New England’s — and possibly the nation’s — only Prevention, Enforcement and Treatment officer. Adams’ unique role and its impact were featured in an article in The New York Times Magazine in July.
Dionne’s interest coalesced around addiction and public health after taking URI Honors Program courses on the opioid abuse epidemic, inequality in America and public health. She volunteered with Adams every week while working at a local hospital, and volunteering at a recovery center as well as with the nonprofit anti-addiction coalition Stand Up Laconia.
“Anne was a pleasure to have here at the Laconia Police Department. She came into this police department with an open mind and an open heart and showed great compassion and understanding for the clients and families I work with,” Adams said.
“This experience with Eric has deepened my interest in public health,” Dionne said. “I am excited to learn about different career options as I go through pharmacy school and to use my knowledge to improve public health and gain a better grasp of substance use disorder.”
With Adams, Dionne has been able to see addiction up close and from diverse perspectives: She sat down with inmates at the county jail to discuss their struggles with addiction and need for recovery services; called recovering addicts to check on their progress; and accompanied Adams on his rounds throughout Laconia. “One individual told me that he always comes to check on her, and she really trusts him. I could tell that she has come to rely on him,” Dionne said.
As a pharmacy student, Dionne observed that treatment for pain may in some cases raise the risk of addiction. A person in recovery told her he was sent home after an accident with a large supply of painkillers and no follow-up appointments. “I asked him if the medical team could have done anything differently. He said instead of being given a large supply of OxyContin and simply sent home, he should have been weaned off the medication with appropriate follow-up care and alternative pain management,” she said.
“I feel Anne will utilize her PharmD degree to the best of her abilities, having a better understanding of how powerful prescription medication can be. Working with providers to help give the best care possible is vital to our society,” said Adams, noting the importance of giving future health professionals like Dionne real-world opportunities to grow and learn.
She said Adams’ work has strong support from several quarters of Laconia, public safety departments, community organizations, the public and lawmakers. However, Dionne noted that state lawmakers initially balked at funding a new correctional facility that provides counseling, education and support programs for inmates struggling with addiction. Persistent education and awareness efforts changed the lawmakers’ minds, she said, noting the importance of ongoing conversations. She and Adams visited the facility in August, and it made an impression. “I learned how difficult it must be to remain positive about becoming sober when faced with several months and even years of being imprisoned with little hope of entering a treatment program upon release,” she said.
Dionne said she has solidified her belief that those who misuse substances or relapse need services, not scorn, and as she observed Adams tell an inmate, asking for help is a sign of strength.
“I now understand better why people start abusing drugs and some of the barriers to recovery,” she said, noting lack of insurance, waiting lists for recovery facilities and lack of transportation as common obstacles.
Dionne has been thinking more about how to use her PharmD degree to have a broad impact on people. She will further explore the possibilities as a teaching assistant to Professor Roger Lebrun of the College of the Environment and Life Sciences for his fall Honors course, The Global Challenge of Emerging Infectious Disease.