WILLIAMSBURG, KY – University of the Cumberlands was proud to welcome Mr. Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), to campus this week during their Physician Assistant Program’s (PAP) observance of National Physician Assistant Week.

Since joining the ODCP 13 years ago, Ingram has become the Office’s spokesperson for substance abuse education, prevention, and treatment. With the explosion of the opioid epidemic across the nation, Ingram is busy visiting one university after another to educate both faculty and students on how the issue began, its dire consequences, and what people can do to help end the epidemic. This week, Ingram spoke to University of the Cumberlands (UC) PAP students.

“Physician assistants practicing medicine in the state of Kentucky are the only PAs who cannot write for controlled substances in practice; however, our Kentucky PAs face the opioid crisis nearly daily,” said Dana Campbell, Director of UCPAP. “It is important that our students learn firsthand the necessary education regarding the effects of opioids, both prescribed and not, on our communities, so they are prepared with the tools and education needed to help combat this crisis.”

Ingram revealed numerous PowerPoint slides filled with charts from organizations like the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center that displayed the rise in opioid abuse and the resulting increase in emergency room visits, newborn babies experiencing opioid withdrawal, and fatalities related to opioid overdoses.  Ingram also described what factors caused the epidemic, and how the issue cannot be pinpointed to one specific drug, addict, or pharmaceutical provider.

“He was very knowledgeable,” said Kenzi Hoffman, a UCPAP student from Castalia, Ohio. “He had a lot of stuff to show us, and it opened your eyes. As a PA student, you hear about the epidemic, but when you sit there and you actually see those charts…it’s just eye-opening.”

As the reality of the epidemic sank in, students questioned Ingram on what they, as future physician assistants, can do to help. Ingram explained that it would take a team effort between PAs, clinics, Congress, the general public, and pharmaceutical providers to erase the epidemic. A possible first step would be to educate everyone on the current crisis, like Ingram is doing now.

“The more you hear about it, the better, and the more you can advocate for a solution,” Hoffman stated. “I think that’s what we need: to start advocating for it and getting people to truly understand the depth of [the epidemic]. We need to rise up.”

Cumberlands PAP faculty and students were grateful to Ingram for visiting campus. He has seen the effects of opioid abuse for years. As Executive Director of the Kentucky ODCP, it is Ingram’s responsibility to guide the organization in its research, coordination, and execution of the state’s drug control policy. Prior to this position, he served with Maysville Kentucky Police Department for more than 23 years, the last six as Chief of Police.

“What better way to be educated than straight from the top?” said Campbell. “I hope our students took away that the use of opioids has had a powerful impact on the Kentucky communities as well as others across the nation, and that they as future providers can have a positive impact on these communities by knowing about the medications, drugs, and policies surrounding them.”

The lecture by Van Ingram is just one of this week’s activities planned by UC Association of Physician Assistants, UCPAP’s student society, in observance of National Physician Assistant Week. Throughout the week, the society will be using social media to raise awareness about what physician assistants are qualified to do upon earning certification. They will also be hosting a 5K run/walk on Friday, Oct. 27 and offering a trunk-or-treat and carnival games for families. Proceeds from the evening will be used to assist Cedarridge Ministry. Festivities begin at 3:30 p.m. To register for the 5K, visit the “CumBOOland UCAPA 5k” Facebook page.

Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction offering quality undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and online degree programs. Learn more at ucumberlands.edu.