University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville partners with local service agencies to combat rapid increase in opioid overdoses

July 28, 2020

The University of South Carolina (UofSC) School of Medicine Greenville has partnered with Faces And Voices Of Recovery (FAVOR) Greenville, youturn, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in their research and curriculum to address and combat opioid overdoses. This partnership is an expressed and intentional demonstration of healthcare and communities working together. With the launching of new modules from Project Transform, funded by SAMHSA and led by Drs. Alain Litwin, Lauren Demosthenes, Margie Stevens, and Mary-Ellen Wright, and in collaboration with youturn, numerous medical students have signed up to take the substance use disorder and recovery course this summer, co-lead by Dr. Demosthenes and Rich Jones, CEO / COO of FAVOR Greenville and Chief Strategy Officer of youturn.

FAVOR Greenville, a non-profit recovery community organization that focuses on changing the response to addiction, provides a personal path of recovery programs and services for individuals and families. Rich Jones leads the patient story component of the educational modules with the School of Medicine Greenville. Jones is also one of the Co-Founders of youturn, an online platform that provides assistance and training on substance abuse. Through FAVOR, his team provides support for those with substance abuse. Youturn offers judgement-free training to recognize the signs of addiction, including series after series of educational videos that teach people everything they need to know about substance abuse: What it is, how to cope, how to help a loved one who is struggling, where they can find support, and importantly, exposure to different methods for recovery.

Dr. Lauren D. Demosthenes, who serves a dual role as an obstetrician/gynecologist at Prisma Health–Upstate in Greenville and a clinical associate professor at the medical school, leads high-value care performance improvement projects, teaches clinical research to medical students, and also is the Coordinator of Substance Use Disorder Education through her medical school role.

Several years back, after a “lunch and learn” session focused on FAVOR Greenville’s work in the community pertaining to Substance Use Disorder (SUD), a medical student who had been in attendance encouraged Dr. Demosthenes to create an elective course for students to take.

That year, Dr. Demosthenes taught an SUD course to ten medical students, and the response from the students was overwhelmingly positive. The class partnered with FAVOR Greenville to gain hands-on experience serving as recovery coaches in the community. What began as a one time elective course, quickly grew into a robust program taught throughout the four year curriculum with opportunities for a deeper dive through the SUD and recovery elective.

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing interest in the SUD course, Dr. Demosthenes has updated the course and is teaching a group of 30 students. With 712 suspected opioid overdoses in April 2020, Dr. Demosthenes launched opportunities for student research with Dr. Margie Stevens’ leadership and expertise on qualitative research. Dr. Demosthenes remarked, “We are extremely proud to be on the cutting edge of education pertaining to Substance Use Disorder, and feel it is crucial for our medical students to be knowledgeable and well-equipped to care for individuals affected by this struggle. Regardless of what field our students are going into, this topic translates into each and every specialty in the medical profession. It is so important that they know how to recognize these underlying issues, talk about it, and provide patients with the necessary resources to get the help that they need.” She continued, “I want my students to understand that we as doctors do not solely make up the healthcare team. Thankfully, we are equipped to treat their immediate medical needs, but it is also our responsibility to guide them in the right direction to organizations and individuals who can help them address the underlying issues that led to the medical problem that brought them to us.

Richard Jones, CEO / COO of FAVOR Greenville and Chief Strategy Officer of youturn, reflected on his experience teaching the course, We know that we are losing the battle against substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues.  We know that the fragmented, acute care treatment model has serious limitations. Seeing these future physicians embrace recovery principles lifts our spirits because it indicates a pathway out of this addiction crisis.  It is clear that these medical students have compassion and empathy for individuals struggling with substance use disorders.  I believe that the full integration of SUD treatment and recovery into healthcare settings is our best shot at improving outcomes and saving lives.”

Students in the program also collaborate with Dr. Alain Litwin, Medical Director and Executive Director of the Prisma Health Addiction Research Center. Dr. Litwin teaches a module related to SUD and provides oversight and vision to the overall curriculum. The Prisma Recovery Center works closely with medical students, teaching them about addiction as a chronic brain disease. Dr. Litwin remarked, “I am privileged to teach a portion of the course and to be able to work with our students in the clinic, along with dedicated Nurse Practitioners, Michelle Bublitz and Carrie Baldwin. Our goal is to inspire students to pursue careers in addiction medicine and to view our patients without stigma.”

From 2019 to 2020, there was a 39% difference in the running total comparison of suspected opioid overdoses. According to the South Carolina Bureau of EMS Charts, the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths, closures of schools, openings and reopenings of businesses are impactful events that increased the opioid overdose activity over the trending line during COVID-19.


About University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville

Through a synergistic partnership between the state’s largest university and the state’s largest public hospital, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, opened the doors in 2012 to welcome its charter class. The educational experience offered at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville is unique as students are immersed in the health care delivery system from their first week and are taught by experienced biomedical educators and clinical faculty from Prisma Health using a state-of-the-art integrated curriculum. University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville’s goal is to educate master clinicians imbued with medical knowledge, committed to care of the total patient, competent in technical skills and cognizant of population health principles.

About FAVOR Greenville

Facing our nation’s #1 public health problem, FAVOR Greenville is a non-profit recovery community organization that provides a personal path to recovery for individuals who have been affected by substance abuse. It is their mission to serve everyone affected by substance use disorders in the upstate region of South Carolina to have a fighting chance at recovery. This family-centered program opened a “welcome center for recovery” in 2013 for individuals and their families who have been suffering from substance abuse disorder, providing programs and support services at no cost as FAVOR Greenville believes no barrier should come in the way when seeking help with substance abuse.