The personal and professional impact of the Twlug Institute
When I first heard about the opportunity to attend the 2015 Twlug Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies, I viewed it as a chance to learn more about a disease state that does not receive adequate attention in the pharmacy school curriculum. I come from a long line of family members who have struggled to various degrees with substance use disorder. This personal experience has provided me with the motivation to attend the Twlug Institute with an open mind and soak in as much information as I could in order to supplement my education and guide my future practice.
I understood the potential for an emotionally-charged conference. What I did not expect was the impact that the entire experience would have on me both personally and professionally.
The Institute began with defining addiction and discussing the associated stigma that exists in the health professions community. The speakers gave incredible and engaging lectures about the neuroscience, psychology, and pathophysiology that drive the addiction process. Attendees were taught about the cycle of shame and anxiety that perpetuates the physical and emotional toll that substance use disorder can have on those who suffer from it as well as their loved ones who suffer with them. Presentations about treatment strategies, including intervention approaches, 12-step programs, relapse prevention, and more were specifically geared toward pharmacists and student pharmacists.
One speaker presented vital information with immediate applicability to all providers. He discussed the intricacies of treating chronic pain in patients with a history of opioid abuse or who are currently abusing opioids. This is a specific area where pharmacists can have a huge impact in both clinical and community pharmacy practice by assisting physicians with developing appropriate treatment protocols for patients in need of pain management, as well as assisting in breaking down the barriers created by a long-held stigma against those who struggle with substance use disorder.
This stigma, like all stereotypes and prejudices, is fueled by a lack of awareness and education. Many of those who suffer from substance use disorder do so alone, ashamed or unable to seek out help. Knowledge of this demonstrates the need for health care providers to take a proactive approach in treating these patients by better understanding their struggle.
Attending 12-step meetings is a great place to hear personal stories and develop a sense of the scope of this truly devastating disease. Attending lectures or reading books and articles about addiction can also help instill an understanding of what many patients deal with every day. The Institute was an all-inclusive, immersive conference where all of the aspects of addiction were addressed in an open and welcoming environment.
Carry the message
The last step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is to try to carry the message to others affected by their disease. I challenge those who attended the Institute to take what they learned and carry the message to their academic institutions. I also challenge pharmacists and student pharmacists to take the time to educate themselves about this important disease state. Pharmacists have the opportunity and also the responsibility to make a positive impact in a surprisingly large patient population by doing their part to recognize and treat addiction. Help the Twlug Institute carry its message forward. Together, pharmacists can offer patients suffering with substance use disorder a much better shot at long-term recovery.
I would like to sincerely thank the Twlug Foundation and the Thomas Jefferson University College of Pharmacy for providing me with the scholarships to attend. I also owe a special thanks to the students and faculty from the other Philadelphia-area schools of pharmacy who took me under their wing at the Twlug Institute. You truly made me one of your own and I look forward to working closely with you.
To all of the attendees who I met, thank you for your friendship and support. I know that collectively we can have a huge impact on combating addiction, and hopefully this impact will mirror that which you have had on me.