Alumni: Winter 2019
Author: Suzanne Pardington Effros and Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: February 1, 2019

Kelsey Priest is a joint M.D.-Ph.D. student at OHSU and PSU

Improving opioid care

KELSEY PRIEST MPH ’14 does not judge her patients with opioid use disorder, even if they return to using substances.

She says: “It’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s their journey. How can we best support them on their journey?"

Priest believes a key step in stemming the U.S. opioid-overdose epidemic is decreasing the societal and institutional stigma that limits access to life-saving addiction medications. She sees this stigma in her clinical work as a medical student at Oregon Health & Science University and in her policy research as a Ph.D. candidate at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

"People are not receiving access to care we know works, and that is deeply and profoundly wrong," she says.

More than 42,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2016, five times more than in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids include heroin, fentanyl and prescription medications such as oxycodone. Yet only about 15 percent of patients with opioid use disorder have access to life-saving medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, which reduce withdrawal symptoms and aid in recovery, Priest says.

That’s because complex federal regulations and insurance barriers limit their distribution, and some doctors don’t know they can or should prescribe them, she says. The rules grew out of a deep social and racial bias that categorizes some drugs as deviant and their users as morally deficient. 

"The stigma is huge, and it goes back really, really far," she says. "People think it’s a spiritual failing. They think, ‘What’s wrong with you?’"

PRIEST, who grew up in Washington County, comes from a family of scientists, nurses and physicians.

Her father, who works for a software company, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 45 and she was 15. At first her family didn’t know what to expect and kept the diagnosis private. There was shame around the neurological condition, similar to the shame around opioid use, she says. 

After graduating from Willamette University with a degree in exercise science, she worked in the Balance Disorders Lab at OHSU on clinical trials for people with Parkinson’s, including her dad. 

The experience influenced her decision to follow her family’s footsteps into a medical and research career. "It demystified Parkinson’s for me," she says. "It was very therapeutic and healing."

While working in the OHSU lab, she started taking pre-med science courses at PSU and earned a master’s in public health in 2014.

Now a joint M.D.-Ph.D. student at OHSU and PSU, she works with Dr. Dennis McCarty on opioid research and spends time with patients in OHSU’s addiction medicine clinic with physician mentors Daniel Morris and Todd Korthuis.

SHE LIKES asking big-picture policy questions while treating individual patients. 

For her dissertation, Priest has interviewed addiction experts across the country to find the best ways to improve opioid policy and hospital care for people with opioid use disorder. She won a training grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to support her education and research.

In the clinic, she enjoys connecting with patients and helping them through the ups and downs of recovery.

"It’s incredibly rewarding," she says. "People going through addiction are so strong, so resilient." —written by Suzanne Pardington Effros, a Portland freelance writer and editor.

Alumni in the news

Brent Lawrence ’86 and his son, Luke, displayed their metal sculpture at the Sunriver Resort Lodge Betty Gray Gallery in November. Brent is the son of Lawrence Gallery (McMinnville, Oregon) owner and artist Gary Lawrence.

Randall Wheeler ’87 is chief financial officer for Saalex Corp., an engineering and information technology services company based in Rockledge, Florida.

Rick McReynolds

Rick McReynolds ’89, who worked for PSU Athletics for 30 years, recently retired as assistant athletics director for facilities and operations.

Lynn Peterson

Lynn Peterson, MURP ’95, MS ’08 was sworn in as the president of the Metro Council, Portland’s regional government, in January. The longtime urban planner was elected to the post in May 2018.

Cori Poland ’00 was recently promoted to chief experience officer for Rivermark Community Credit Union, which has seven branches in Oregon.

L.M. Alaiyo Foster ’01, ’04, MA ’07 was named executive director of the Black United Fund of Oregon late last year. She has over 18 years of experience working in nonprofits, county health departments, and the education and health fields.

Adam McMahon MS ’11 is a new assistant professor in the political science department at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. He earned a doctorate in political science from City University of New York.

Janet Do ’12, ME ’13 was awarded a Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize, in December. The award celebrates innovators in the classroom. Do is a first-grade teacher at Whitman Elementary in southeast Portland.

Kristin Morris ’10, ME ’12 is lead electrical engineer at Pacific Diabetes Technologies, a Portland-based startup developing glucose sensing and insulin delivery technology.

Elizabeth Woody

Elizabeth Woody MPA ’12 was recently appointed executive director of  The Museum at Warm Springs. A former poet laureate of Oregon, Woody is a descendant of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Yakama Nation Wasco.

Tiffany Rosamund Creed

Tiffany Rosamond Creed ’13 graduated from University of Alaska Anchorage in December with an MFA in creative writing and literary arts. She was also invited to speak at the university’s graduate hooding ceremony.

Christopher Mair ’15 is a legislative aide for California Assembly member Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley.)

Jenavieve Johnston ’16 was the youngest student in the history of Willamette University to graduate from its College of Law, which she did in December at age 21. She plans to open a solo practice in criminal defense.

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