As Drug Overdose Deaths Climb, Experts Assess Strategies to Stem the Tide

May. 10, 2022
University of Rochester gathers innovators to evaluate barriers to substance use disorder care.

Stemming the tide of the opioid crisis in rural communities requires taking action to overcome the stigma and health inequity that have increased barriers to recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). It also takes a diverse group of people with profound knowledge of the issues and dedication to finding solutions.

The University of Rochester Recovery Center of Excellence is bringing many of these champions together. People with lived experience of SUD, artists, authors, providers, researchers, policymakers, and advocates who share a focus on health equity related to SUD will gather to share perspectives and strategies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, May 18–20.

“For many years, our country has looked at substance use disorder as a disease of the weak-minded; something that happens to other people with a history of ‘bad behavior’ that had this coming to them. We isolate those ‘bad’ people, lest their behavior is catchy. That is stigma,” said Michele Lawrence, M.B.A., M.P.H, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-principal investigator of the UR Recovery Center of Excellence. “The only way we can improve the treatment of substance use disorder is to recognize and understand how stigma and inequity act as obstacles to change.”

The Taking Action: National Rural Substance Use Disorder Health Equity and Stigma Summit will feature keynote speakers from across the country, including: Uché Blackstock, M.D., whose organization Advancing Health Equity is working to dismantle racism in health care; Beth Macy, author of the best-selling book Dopesick (now a Hulu series); Sam Quinones, author of the award-winning book Dreamland and The Least of Us; Leonard Buschel, director of the REEL Recovery Film Festival; Tony Hoffman, former BMX Elite Pro and Olympic coach; and Peter Gaumond and Robert Kent of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“At a time when fatalities from the overdose crisis have reached record numbers, this summit brings together people who have the tools to bring about change,” said Gloria J. Baciewicz, M.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry at URMC and co-principal investigator of the UR Recovery Center of Excellence. “These discussions are particularly important as we face the ‘fourth wave’ of the opioid epidemic, which is being driven by the use of deadly synthetic opioids, stimulants, and the use of multiple substances in combination.”

The reality of the treatment landscape in many rural communities – limited resources, few providers, and a lack of anonymity – coupled with stigma and health inequities creates substantial roadblocks for those seeking SUD/opioid use disorder care. According to Lawrence, “This conference is the start of a conversation about how we, as a society, work our way out of this. It starts with connection to each other and listening to each other’s stories so we can see the humanity and similarities in people who may look different than us. It starts with facing up to the stigma we all carry and realizing that all of us have flaws, but we are better together than alone.”

Under a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) totaling $12.3 million, the University of Rochester Recovery Center of Excellence has been disseminating best practices to reduce morbidity and mortality related to SUD, with particular focus on synthetic opioids, to rural Appalachian communities that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis.

Since being established in fall 2019, the center has disseminated 12 best practices that have been adapted for implementation in rural communities. Recent initiatives include suicide prevention training, resources to reduce overdose from combined substances, and training on treatment of SUD in primary care. Another of the center’s projects is a campaign to reduce stigma through art and community conversations.

The center is also implementing a model in rural Appalachian New York called the Ecosystem of Recovery, which creates broader access to and community-wide support for best practices in opioid use disorder treatment. One of three Rural Centers of Excellence on Substance Use Disorders funded by HRSA, UR Recovery Center of Excellence provides organizations in rural communities with program assistance as they work through planning and implementation challenges.

Registration to this hybrid summit is free of cost and is open to the public. In-person attendance is limited. Continuing education credits will be offered.


This HRSA RCORP RCOE program is supported by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) of the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $12.3M with 0% financed with non-governmental sources.

The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by HRSA, HHS or the US Government.