College of Education and Human Development

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Opioid epidemic: ICI’s MNLEND will create statewide telehealth hub

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Making sure those affected by opioids get support

The Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) has tapped the Institute on Community Integration’s (ICI) Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) program to create a network of partner organizations across Minnesota that will enhance developmental screening, monitoring, and education for families dealing with the effects of opioid exposure.

The effort is part of a national training initiative called Project SCOPE: Supporting Children of the OPioid Epidemic. Under the initiative, MNLEND will assemble a statewide interdisciplinary team to complete immersion training in ECHO-SCOPE, a guided practice model that uses knowledge-sharing videoconference networks led by expert training teams. The model brings the latest evidence-based training in disability and other services to families, educators, providers, and administrators in their homes, schools, and offices.

The MNLEND program will coordinate the effort, in cooperation with the ICI Telehealth Laboratory and its Learn the Signs, Act Early autism intervention team. Several of ICI’s external partners, including the state’s major health agencies, Hennepin County, the Minneapolis Public Schools Early Childhood Special Education Family Navigators Program, and University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, are expected to be part of the network.

“We’re creating a hub of statewide partners across disciplines so we can be a resource for each other to ensure children affected by opioids get access to early supports,” says Rebecca Dosch Brown, program director for MNLEND. “We need to share the development trajectory and evidence-based practices for optimal long-term development with families and others, such as foster families and professionals.”

Opioids accounted for 60 percent of Minnesota’s 694 drug-related deaths in 2017, according to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program. The number of children removed from their homes due to parental drug use increased by 128 percent between 2012 and 2016.

“While opioid use has increased significantly in Minnesota, our systems have not kept pace with the growing need to support families holistically,” Dosch Brown says.

Multiple developmental variables make pinpointing opioids’ long-term neurocognitive effects difficult. Last year, however, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics summarized a professional panel of experts, noting emerging literature suggesting an association between neonates exposed to opioids in utero and longer-term adverse developmental and neurocognitive outcomes.

ICI’s Jennifer Hall-Lande is principal investigator for the project. Others on the team, in addition to Dosch Brown, include Pediatrics Associate Professor Rebekah Hudock; Chimei Lee, a pediatric neuropsychology fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School; Jessica Simacek, ICI’s Telehealth Laboratory manager; and current MNLEND Fellow Whitney Terrill.

Each academic year, MNLEND brings together a cross section of fellows for an interdisciplinary leadership training program. Fellows are professionals, self-advocates, and family members from the greater community, as well as post-doctoral researchers and graduate students from more than 16 University of Minnesota academic disciplines. The MNLEND experience has allowed ICI to form relationships with a significant and diverse group of organizations, a key component of the Project SCOPE effort.

Story by Janet Stewart | Photos by Antonio Rodriguez,