• October 18, 2018

Confronting the Opioid Crisis: Removing Stigma

Sarah Fribert, M.D.Sarah Friebert, M.D., Director of the Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, describes how her hospital has fundamentally evolved to address the opioid epidemic.

"With philanthropic support, Akron Children’s Hospital has created a new program to address the devastating toll of substance use disorders. With Ohio at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic, every area of our hospital has been affected. Substance use disorders affect families cared for through our Maternal Fetal Medicine practice, babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome who are in our NICUs, and toddlers who end up in ICU after ingesting drugs.

Across our inpatient units, we have hospital hostages — children whose social situations preclude their safe return to home — as well as teens who are using. Our foster care system is overwhelmed. Our home-care nurses are in precarious situations, and our employed school nurses face children who lack the basic necessities or who are using.

We’ve equipped our free-standing pediatric hospital with adult code carts to resuscitate parents who have overdosed on our premises, and adults who seek care for overdose because our ERs are closest. Our own employees struggle with addiction, and the list goes on. 

Our first step was to acknowledge that, despite the overdose death statistics, addiction is a pediatric problem. Young people don’t wake up on the morning of their 18th birthday and put a needle in their arm without some sort of prodrome. As a leader in pediatric care, we felt the need to be more strategic — with the goal of preventing today’s children from becoming the next generation of adults struggling with lifelong addiction. 

Initially, our Addiction Services Program focuses on education, prevention, screening, care coordination, community outreach, and referral, with medically assisted treatment and outpatient care to be added later. We hope to remove the stigma surrounding addiction. Just like diabetes and heart failure, addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease and successful treatment involves comprehensive care — care that must be reimbursed appropriately. 

And why is our addiction services program under the umbrella of the Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center? Our center serves children with any life-threatening condition and their families by addressing physical, psychosocial, emotional, spiritual and practical suffering through an interdisciplinary team approach. In 2018, there is nothing more life-threatening to the youth of our community than addiction, and an interdisciplinary team approach, in concert with the community, is required."