At VCU, 170 experts gather to focus on solutions to opioid crisis

Participants were encouraged to “drive toward solutions and breaking down of silos” among law enforcement, medical, scientific and treatment professionals.
Olivia Norman, assistant U.S. Attorney and district opioid coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, leads a session during the Silent No More symposium

Right: Olivia Norman, assistant U.S. Attorney and district opioid coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, leads a session during the Silent No More symposium.

More than 170 law enforcement, addiction treatment, medical, education, and community services professionals gathered in James Branch Cabell Library on Tuesday to discuss and collaborate on ways to address the opioid crisis.

“Our chief goal is to bring together all the stakeholders from all of these sectors to talk about: how do we work together, better, as one team to address substance use disorder and overdose death problems that are really crippling our communities?” said Michelle Peace, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an organizer of the event.

The Silent No More Overdose Symposium brought together law enforcement experts from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police, New Jersey State Police and Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services; and medical and education experts from VCU Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Virginia Poison Center, the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Also invited to the discussion and development of a working group were the sectors that provide support to individuals who struggle with substance use disorder. So, faith-based programs, treatment centers and community-based nonprofit programs joined the daylong conversation.

It was co-hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the DEA, SAMHSA, Virginia State Police, Virginia’s Office of the Governor and VCU.

participants at the Silent No More symposium
More than 170 law enforcement, addiction treatment, medical, education, and community services professionals participated in the symposium.

“The coming together of this highly respected and accomplished group of professionals is incredibly impressive, but there is still much more work to be done,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a news release. “We must remain vigilant in our enforcement efforts, continue to raise awareness in our communities, educate our children on the dangers of illicit narcotics, and work across the entire suite of law enforcement efforts to keep these dangerous drugs from hitting the streets.”

The symposium featured a number of expert panels focused on topics such as the development of cross-jurisdictional multi-disciplinary working groups, the impact on emergency rooms and morgues, fatal drug overdose trends and statewide epidemiology statistics, high-intensity drug trafficking area management coordination, opioid overdose surveillance, data sharing platforms, successful treatment programs and more.

“Today is the time to engage our individual expertise and capabilities in order to benefit the greater good of Virginia,” Colonel Gary T. Settle, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said in a news release. “No single one of us has all the answers. We have to collectively find new solutions to the opioid crisis, and find new ways to help one another so we can save more lives, and ultimately, save our communities.”

participants and organizers in the Silent No More symposium
Organizers and participants included (left to right) Olivia Norman, assistant U.S. Attorney and district opioid coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office; Camille Schrier, a VCU Pharmacy student and Miss America 2020; Kim Ulmet, victim/witness specialist and community outreach coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office; Michael Gill, assistant U.S. Attorney and district criminal chief; and Michelle Peace, Ph.D., associate professor of forensic science at VCU.

Throughout the day, Peace and other organizers encouraged participants to “drive toward solutions and breaking down of silos” among law enforcement, medical, scientific and treatment professionals.

“All of this is about data sharing and breaking down language barriers,” Peace said. “The hope is that we can reach the people who need the help faster and we can intercede with the drug traffickers more effectively.”

Organizers are hoping to convene a working group that will continue the work started at the symposium to establish programs and coalitions that can more effectively and expeditiously deal with the drug crisis at all levels.

Also in attendance was Camille Schrier, a VCU pharmacy student who was crowned Miss America 2020 in December. As Miss Virginia and Miss America, Schrier’s platform has focused on the dangers of misusing medication, including opioids.

“Advocacy for medication safety and abuse prevention is timely and relevant, impacting all socioeconomic classes,” she said. “As Miss America, and as a doctor of pharmacy student, my objective is to further bridge the gap in medication safety and increase abuse prevention to reduce addiction.”

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