Published 5/14/19 on UMB News

May 14, 2019    |   By Laura Lee

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, carries a tube of naloxone spray with him everywhere he goes to emphasize one of his main public health priorities: addressing the opioid crisis.

MPH candidate Mehren Mehtab explains her research at Public Health Reseach Day at Maryland 2019.

MPH candidate Mehren Mehtab explains her research at Public Health Research Day at Maryland 2019.

During the opening of his keynote address at the seventh annual Public Health Research at Maryland Day, held at the University of Maryland, College Park(UMCP), Adams held up the tube of naloxone while quoting former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who once said, “Everyone’s got a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.”

The opioid crisis — which killed close to 50,000 Americans in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — is the “punch in the mouth we’ve all received,” said Adams.

According to Vice Admiral Adams, that punch is not a knockout but rather a call to action. “It’s an opportunity to bring folks together,” he said, to broaden the conversation beyond overdoses to address “upstream factors” like mental health that lead to substance abuse.

Public Health Research Day at Maryland provided that opportunity by bringing together more than 600 students, faculty, and administrators from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and UMCP as well as a number of other universities, including the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Morgan State, Towson, and American. The event, which has been growing each year since its debut in 2013, also attracted staff from the U.S. Public Health Service, Maryland Department of Health, and several local health departments all eager to discuss public health from a variety of different perspectives.

The daylong event was made possible by the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the Stateand was organized by the University of Maryland School of Public Health (UMPH) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).

Acknowledging the day’s theme of “Health and Well-Being for All: Working Together Across Sectors.” UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, noted the vital importance of MPower. “When we leverage each other’s assets and expertise,” he said, “we put a new lens on these intractable problems of public health that we’re all committed to solving.”

UMSOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, agreed. Quoting an African proverb, he noted, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” He continued, “Today’s event is emblematic of that adage. When working together, we can go much further than we would if we worked by ourselves in public health research.”

The day kicked off with a keynote speech by the surgeon general followed by a trio of panels with experts from diverse disciplines from UMCP and UMB, including “Sustainability at the Nexus of Food, Energy, Water Climate and Health,” co-moderated by William PiermatteiJD, managing director, Environmental Law Program at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and Amy R. Sapkota, PhD, MPH, professor, Maryland Institute of Environmental Health, UMPH; and “Health Technology and the Impact on Communities,” co-moderated by Wendy Camelo CastilloMD, MSc, PhD, assistant professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and Susan Winter, PhD, MA, associate dean for research, UMCP College of Information Studies; and “Action for Prevention of Violence, Human Trafficking and More,” with co-moderators Susan G. EssermanJD, founder and director, SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors, and visiting professor, University of Maryland School of Social Work, and Kevin Roy, PhD, associate professor and director of graduate studies, Department of Family Health, UMPH.

Students got in on the action by showcasing their public health research in a robust poster contest that detailed their research and findings.

The students’ projects were placed side-by-side in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, giving visitors the opportunity to view and discuss their work.

Mehren Mehtab, who is working toward a master’s degree in public health at UMSOM, said Public Health Research Day was a great opportunity to learn from other dedicated public health advocates. “There are a lot of public health problems that people don’t realize exist, but when we come together and we see each other, we see that there are problems,” she said. “There are problems that I didn’t know existed in the research just next to me,” she added, nodding toward a colleague’s research detailing the negative effects of chemicals on hair salon workers.

Mehtab said she is proud of the impact her research has had on Head Start centers by improving the environmental health and air quality of the centers for their small patrons. Based on her research and recommendations, six of the seven centers involved in her study improved their air quality by making simple fixes like using soap and water to clean toys instead of harsh chemicals that can lead to asthma and diarrhea. “These are changes you make in the short term, but the effect is long term since there’s a behavior change,” she explained.

Sydney Hathaway, a senior in the University of Maryland School of Dentistry’s dental hygiene program, was eager to share her team’s findings from a pilot program at Paul’s Place designed to provide oral care to Baltimore’s homeless population. During the pilot, dental hygiene students worked interprofessionally with nursing students to address multiple health issues confronting their vulnerable patients.

“I think a lot of our health disparities come from the separate silos of the medical field and the dental field,” she said. “If we’re able to bridge the gap and work together, we can have better health care outcomes, and it all starts with integrating that into our education at UMB.”