A Quick Word With: Dr. Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, Director of AIR’s Center for Multi-System Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic
Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar is the director of AIR’s new Center for Multi-System Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic. A physician who specializes in primary care, addiction, and public health, Dr. Salisbury-Afshar has spent time in clinical settings, public health departments, and public agencies that oversee addiction treatment.
Q: How is research influencing on-the-ground efforts to address the opioid epidemic?
Dr. Salisbury-Afshar: As awareness and funding increase, there have been significant advances in opioid-related research in several areas: managing pain, reducing prescription opioid use, treating opioid use disorder, and responding to and preventing overdose. A variety of practices and interventions have been shown to reduce opioid-related morbidity and mortality, and there’s been additional funding to scale up those interventions. We understand what works, and now we need to increase those efforts. New pain and addiction treatments and new delivery models to increase access to those treatments are also being developed, and they carry a lot of promise.
Additionally, more research is needed to study factors that contribute to the crisis, such as poverty, homelessness, child and family services, criminal justice, and workforce. This knowledge will help us better understand both how to prevent negative outcomes related to addiction, as well as how to better support people who use drugs and those who are in recovery.
Q: What’s the value of having a center on opioids at AIR?
Dr. Salisbury-Afshar: The goal of the Center is to maximize AIR’s deep understanding of a variety of areas—health services, public health, housing, workforce, mental health, trauma-informed care, criminal justice, and education—to support the implementation of evidence-based policies and practices that not only prevent deaths, but also improve health and well-being.
AIR also has expertise in facilitating data interpretation, cross-sector collaboration, professional development and training, and program implementation, and the Center brings these capabilities together to address the opioid crisis.
Q: The opioid epidemic is very complex, without a simple solution. What gives you optimism about this issue moving forward?
Dr. Salisbury-Afshar: It’s encouraging to see an increasing recognition that multiple sectors must work together on the opioid crisis and that data is necessary to pinpoint the problem and help customize solutions.
I also believe that there’s more opportunity than ever to directly address a major driver of the epidemic: stigma. Scientific and medical evidence show that addiction is a chronic condition and that people can make positive changes, reduce risks associated with use, and recover. Availability of harm reduction services, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support services are all critical pieces of reducing risk. However, many view addiction as a moral failing. Unfortunately, this stigma has a profound effect on people’s ability to seek needed services and it increases their isolation. My vision is that AIR’s Center use data-driven interventions and our understanding of addiction as a chronic condition to help reduce stigma, as well as develop systems and services that respectfully support people, families, and communities.