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Univ. of Mich. Dr. Donald Vereen, Jr. offers valuable insight on drug abuse and addiction
4/27/2017 1:00:00 PM - Court


By Joseph V. Sowmick, Photojournalist


Valuable insight was given through Dr. Donald Vereen, Jr. and his April 20 presentations on “Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Research says about Prevention and Treatment.”


Vereen serves as Director for the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center and is the former Deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Clinton Administration.


The Tribal Council morning presentation and afternoon staff presentation at Nimkee Memorial Wellness Center were coordinated through the efforts of Tribal Court Senior Judge Patrick Shannon and Magistrate Carol Jackson.


“We are honored and blessed to have to Dr. Donald R. Vereen, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., who directs Community Academic Engagement in the Prevention Research Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health (UMSPH) give a presentation on how opioid addiction effects the brain, and how an integrated approach will help combat this epidemic we all face in not only our community, but as a nation,” Jackson said. “Dr. Vereen said ‘We have the resources, lets utilize them. I know we all can work together, to educate and help treat those who suffer. It’s no different than treating diabetes, or whether we carry an Epi-pen or Narcan as both can save a life’.  I appreciated Dr. Vereen mention we shouldn’t pass judgment on those who suffer.”


A key point Dr. Vereen made in both presentation is we all need to help spread the message that addiction is not a dirty word.


“It’s a brain disease and this epidemic is not the first one we have dealt with in our communities and it won’t be the last. The science of addiction research is clear where every person who takes drugs are actively manipulation their brain,” Dr. Vereen said. “There is a correlation where if someone has no immune system, any amount of antibiotics can’t help you.  This is why research advocates a holistic approach where the individual, family, positive peer influence and the entire community can be utilized.”


Tribal Council Treasurer Gayle Ruhl has a Master’s of Social Work degree from Michigan State University and extensive experience as a licensed substance abuse therapist who understands the challenge of addiction.


“Dr. Vereen’s message was eloquent and very specific to what can be done to prevent and treat substance abuse and addiction.  From the slide presentation, it is evident that we need to get prevention to our Native American youth before they reach high school,” Ruhl said.  “Council would welcome any collaboration that Dr. Vereen can offer as we need to increase various community efforts to support those who are struggling with addiction.”


Dana Thomas, M.P.H. joined Dr. Vereen in Council chambers for the presentation and serves as the Director of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“The U of M School of Public Health has worked with the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan over the years and we are honored to have the opportunity to work with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. The need to collaborate is valuable.  Each partner can bring different perspectives, knowledge and resources to bear on an issue or topic,” Thomas said.  “Unfortunately, opioid use and overdoses have reached crisis proportions in too many communities across the county and within Michigan it is having devastating impacts in our rural communities.   The Saginaw Chippewa community is experiencing a devastating public health crisis and the University of Michigan School of Public Health: Public Health Practice can collaborate to assist.”


Judge Shannon is a U of M alumni and has collaborated with Michigan Public Health Training Center Program Manager Phoebe Goldberg during a three part medically assisted treatment series offered in 2016.


“We welcome the opportunity for grant collaboration. Much of the discussions with Council and other health care and court staff favored an integrated health care approach to combat addiction,” Shannon said.  “We are trying to use that model as we integrate our Healing to Wellness program with Nimkee, ACFS, Behavioral Health and other Tribal departments.”


Dr. Vereen shared that the drug vivitrol and medically assisted treatment along with counseling can improve the chances of success.


“Medication does not exist to treat all drug use disorders, but it can be effective for opioid use disorder when combined with behavioral health treatment. Research indicates individuals receiving medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders have better outcomes,” Dr. Vereen said. “The brain is dynamic and we now understand that our genes play a role in understanding addiction.  Our brain changes its physical structure and function through behavior and interactions with our environment.”


Dr. Vereen received Council support for research and pledged to work toward the goal described.


“The best outcome where research is concerned by is foster an environment of community involvement and engagement,” Dr. Vereen said. “The Saginaw Chippewa community needs to ask the questions and we can compile the research while you analyze the data.”