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Tackling the Opioid Epidemic

Author cupharmacy | Publish Date February 22, 2018

Our talented faculty are working to solve some of the country's most pressing health issues, including the widespread opioid epidemic. In the U.S. last year, more than 63,000 people died of a drug overdose, with opioids involved in 75 percent of those deaths.  the crisis also hits close to home,, with at least 504 deaths in Colorado caused by opioid overdose.

One of our best and brightest minds, CU Pharmacy faculty member and alumnus Robert Valuck, PhD, RPh is focusing on the opioid epidemic with his research and efforts on behalf of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse, which is housed at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy. By building strategic partnerships with the consortium's volunteers at federal, state and local levels.  Dr. Valuck is bringing communities closer to solving the opioid epidemic. We connected with Dr. Valuck to hear about this critical issue and his important work.

Robert Valuck, PhD, RPh

Graduated from:  University of Colorado School of Pharmacy; University of Illinois at Chicago

Interests at CU:  Center for Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research, Pharmacoepidemiology and drug safety

Joined CU:  1994

What significant hurdles do health care professionals face in addressing the opioid epidemic?

Right now, we have a 90 percent treatment gap for patients with substance use disorders. Theoretically, this situation would be similar to a cancer patient going to a treatment center and being told, "sorry, we can only give treatment to one out of ten people." Even with the evidence-based treatments that are available, we are woefully below capacity to deal with all the need that's out there.

Can you share how the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse is overcoming obstacles in health care and tackling the opioid epidemic?

With almost 500 volunteers including experts from state and federal agencies and task forces, nonprofit organizations, health care providers to public health officials, we're helping change lives. We're working to raise public awareness, improve education, research, treatment and safe disposal. One of our initiatives involves addressing the "medicine cabinet" problem. Often times, unused prescribed opioid pills are left over in the medicine cabinet, and then are used by friends or family members for whom they weren't prescribed. We're trying to get disposal boxes in every community in Colorado so people can give back leftover medications and prevent others from using them non-medically.

What gives you hope in the face of this epidemic?

We have an overdose antidote (naloxone) that works. There are effective treatments that work, and recovery is possible. Most importantly, lives can be saved. This outcome is secured by the treatment providers, policymakers and others who are aiming to make a difference. People are engaged -- they're collaborating and talking about the epidemic.  They really care. We're working across all sectors int eh state to do good work and solve this issue.

If you weren't fighting the opioid epidemic, what do you think you'd be doing?

I love to fly fish, so I'd try to make it a living, but most likely starve while trying. A couple years ago I did a big fishing trip up in Jackson, Wyoming with my son. There, we floated the Snake River, through the Teton Mountains, catching trout. You don't get anything prettier than that.