Action Collaborative Steering Committee Member Profiles
To provide more insight into the composition of the NAM’s Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic, we will be profiling members of our steering committee, providing insight into their backgrounds, what in their careers led them to working on substance use disorder and specifically the U.S. opioid epidemic, and what their vision is for the Action Collaborative.
Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dr. Deb Houry has always been interested in the connection between public health and clinical medicine. That’s why she chose to pursue a dual degree at Tulane University – a masters in public health and her MD, simultaneously. Houry chose emergency medicine as her specialty; it was a field that would enable her to work on the front lines of public health. Houry has dedicated her career to injury prevention, and in 2018 she joined the steering committee of the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic, where she provides leadership, guidance, and expertise on injury and overdose prevention.
The Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic was formed, under the auspices of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), as the public health emergency of the U.S. opioid epidemic worsened in 2018. The Action Collaborative is a public-private partnership comprised of government, communities, health systems, provider groups, payers, industry, nonprofits, academia, individuals with lived experience, and more – all committed to sharing knowledge, aligning ongoing initiatives, and advancing collective, multi-sector solutions. The members of the Action Collaborative are organized into five distinct working groups: health professional education and training; pain management guidelines and evidence standards; prevention, treatment, and recovery services; research, data, and metrics needs; and persons with lived experience. Houry is a member of the Action Collaborative’s steering committee and co-leads the Pain Management Guidelines and Evidence Standards working group along with Dr. Helen Burstin of the Council of Medical Specialty Societies.
Dr. Houry’s Early Career
For 15 years, Houry worked as a faculty member in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, seeing patients at Grady Memorial Hospital, educating future physicians on injury prevention and violence as a public health problem, and conducting research on issues like intimate partner violence and substance use disorders. In 2014, Houry’s years of work in injury prevention resulted in her becoming Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC).
The CDC’s Role in Combatting the Opioid Epidemic
In her role as Director, Houry is responsible for leading much of the work the CDC is doing to reduce rates of fatal and non-fatal drug overdose. The approach the CDC has taken to address the opioid epidemic has focused on several key areas. First, the CDC works to ensure that timely and actionable surveillance is being conducted, allowing for a clearer picture of overdose rates nationwide and locally. Next, the CDC provides resources to state, local, and tribal agencies to build capacity and support prevention and response efforts. This year, the NCIPC invested over $300 million to support state and local health departments. Third, the CDC works within the health system including areas like strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) and improving integration of PDMPs within and across state lines. Additionally, the NCIPC works to improve prescribing practices around opioids – for example, by releasing guidelines for prescribing opioids to individuals experiencing chronic pain. The NCIPC also has supported programs to link public safety and public health efforts. A partnership with the Office of National Drug Control Policy through the DEA’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas fosters community innovation by providing funding for pilot programs ranging from trauma-informed care training for teachers and law enforcement to reduce adverse childhood experiences to warm hand-offs with EMS to link patients to care. As Director, Houry manages all of these programs and ensures their fidelity, as well as interfacing with other Centers across the CDC and with federal agencies more broadly.
Over the course of her career, Houry has observed the ways in which the ongoing opioid crisis has impacted the way federal, state, and local agencies approach prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. As the crisis has evolved, the CDC has documented increasing rates of overdose related to the use of illicit opioids such as fentanyl. In response, Houry has led her team to implement strategies to target these substances and reduce overdose rates.
Joining the NAM’s Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic
On a daily basis, Houry works with staff and experts across the United States to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of all Americans. When the opportunity to join the NAM’s Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Opioid Epidemic arose, Houry welcomed the invitation. Houry said, “I thought the CDC, with our lens on prevention and public health, could add to this continuum of partners that also includes treatment, medical education, and care delivery.”
Dr. Houry’s Vision for the Action Collaborative
Houry hopes the Action Collaborative will identify shared goals across industries and specialties, including reducing the stigma of substance use disorders, ensuring safer prescribing of opioids, and increasing provider education on pain management. Overall, she wants to find ways to ensure the progress made by the Action Collaborative is sustainable.
To learn more about the NAM’s Action Collaborative on Countering the U.S. Action Collaborative, visit the Action Collaborative’s website at nam.edu/opioidcollaborative and sign up for the listserv here.