Tufts professor discusses opioid harm reduction at Project SHARE, Hillel event

Margie Skeer, associate professor of public health and community medicine at the Tufts School of Public Health, led an event titled “Confronting the Opioid Crisis” last night, discussing harm reduction and research surrounding opioid substance use disorder. 

The event, held at the Granoff Family Hillel Center, included a presentation and question and answer period. The discussion highlighted intersections between policies and individual action as well as between social and medical issues as a means of destigmatizing and providing knowledge about the opioid crisis.

The event was co-hosted by Hillel’s Moral Voices in an effort to realize their 2019–20 theme of “substance abuse and the health care system” and Project SHARE, which focuses on health care access, resources and education in the community. According to Christian Senecal, a member of Project SHARE, the partnership with Hillel allowed for more people to become engaged directly. 

Skeer, a psychology major as an undergraduate, credited a college internship at a drug rehabilitation center for opening her eyes into the field. She stated that the experience was impactful in her realization that although she was the same age as many of the people who were trying to recover from heroin use disorder, “their lives were so drastically different from mine.” 

According to Skeer, the opioid crisis is not defined by the use of opioids but by deaths occurring as a result of overdose.

According to Skeer, slogans such as “say no to drugs” and the word “addiction” wrongly convey the physical needs and compulsive drug-seeking behaviors of opioid substance use disorder as a disease. 

She presented a table which depicted social determinants, both risk factors and protective factors, in multiple domains such as individual, family, peer, school and community.

Skeer’s current research, Substance Use Prevention Promoted by Eating Family Dinners Regularly (SUPPER), explores family discussions with children about substance abuse as a protective factor. 

Delving into more social determinants, she featured a short excerpt from the documentary, “The House I Live In” (2012). The scenes depicted the racial and ethnic disparities within incarceration in direct relation to the discrimination of the war on drugs.

Skeer then recommended harm reduction measures, such as supervised injection facilities and syringe exchange programs, to help address the crisis and decrease the instances of death resulting from opioids.

According to Skeer, arguments that such facilities condone drug use fail to grasp the understanding of harm reduction and the reality of people who use drugs. The facilities provide sterile syringes, works and cookers, HIV testing, case management, drug treatment referrals, healthcare and hepatitis C treatment, as well as other services

Above all, according to Skeer, they provide human interaction in a non-judgemental and non-stigmatizing way for people who have opioid use disorders. 

“It’s very, very hard to walk around the world when you have track marks, when you are high, when you might be bleeding — people sort of see it as a throwaway population. To be in a space where you are treated as a human being can be very rare,” Skeer said

According to Skeer, individual changes such as not using the words “addict” and “junkie” colloquially and instead using language such as “person with an opioid use disorder” are ways for students to actively contribute to destigmatization. 

“If everyone did that, we would actually see a difference in policy,” Skeer said

Frederick Birnbaum, executive vice president of Tufts Hillel and a member of Project SHARE, conveyed his excitement over the conversation surrounding the opioid crisis happening but emphasized the importance of continuing the conversation.

 “I really think education is essential and important,” Birnbaum, a senior, said. “But if it doesn’t lead to action, then we are falling short.”