|By Kennedy Byrne and Terri Schreiber|
Not only does Terri Schreiber have professional research experience in public health, but she also has lived experience which drives her to achieve even more within her nonprofit work. Terri was prescribed opioid medication for pain during the peak of opioid prescribing. She sought medical attention for facet joint damage, a fractured spine, and three torn discs weeks before starting a PhD program. Her experience is intended to create the opportunity for others who experience chronic pain or who have been touched by the opioid crisis to have open discussions about stigma and the difference between dependency and opioid use disorder (OUD). Terri is willing to come forward because more people in the United States have lost their lives to opioid-related overdose than all the people that lost their lives during the AIDs epidemic; we need to find a venue for changing the conversation.
The initial ideas for The Schreiber Research Group came during her taper off all medication. From the earliest days, she could feel her mind and body begin to heal. There were moments of clarity, and whether it was for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, she created PowerPoints about what a public health research-focused nonprofit would accomplish. She set out to help other chronic pain sufferers avoid the challenges of a treatment regimen that did not address the root cause of the pain response. Currently, she is working with the Provider Education network in Colorado to create recorded vignettes on her success tapering off medication and managing pain without pharmaceuticals. The target audience is opioid prescribers and pain patients so they may learn tapering techniques and that healthy outcomes are possible. Terri created her own personal guide for living with injuries that are chronic and degenerative. She then educated herself on the opioid crisis by reading journal articles, reviewing websites, watching documentaries, and identifying who else in the community was working to solve the problem. She would attend meetings at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Campus, where various work groups from the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention convened to solve the opioid problem across the state. She sat in to listen and learn in preparation for her own venture.
“I thought to myself, ‘if I can get better and find alternative solutions, I need to go out into the world and make this happen for others’” said Terri, while reflecting on her pain journey. She did exactly that. Terri is the founder of The Schreiber Research Group, a nonprofit focused on research, prevention, and intervention regarding public health issues. The group’s main area of research is the opioid crisis. Terri originally started her work in Colorado, but has since expanded her reach nationwide.
She has been named one of Microsoft Alumni Network’s 2020 AlumniHEROes and earned a $15,000 grant for her continued work.
Terri was a senior manager at Microsoft in Human Resources Information Systems from 1997-2001. She left the company to pursue a Master of Public Administration degree in Leadership Development at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Terri used her collaborative skills to hand-pick a diverse, skilled team to join her research group, including another Microsoft alum, a former United Way of King County fundraiser, and a former classmate.
The Schreiber Research Group has partnered with and secured funding from her alma mater, the University of Colorado. Terri said it was gratifying when the university that she was once a part of started funding her work on a national study to understand what policy programs and activities are happening in response to the opioid crisis and how these efforts have been impacted by COVID-19. Also, the group recently learned that their project with Pueblo County Public Health and Environment will be funded by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration as part of the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program. Her team will be working with hard-hit rural counties in Colorado as part of a collaborative multi-partner effort to find on-the-ground solutions with Colorado Rural Health Center and the Colorado Consortium.
Terri spends her days doing a multitude of tasks, including participating in collaborative efforts to develop a clinic for benzodiazepine tapering and healing, building public health datasets for all United States counties, presenting at national conferences, and working with grant writers to secure funding.
One of Terri’s goals is to raise awareness about the magnitude of the opioid problem. We know that before the pandemic, 128 people were dying each day. Recent reporting indicates these numbers are going up. To make a dent in this issue, prescribing practices need to change, treatment options need to become more widely available, insurance coverage for non-opioid treatments is needed, and stigma needs to be removed. Substance use disorder is a disease, not a moral failing.
An additional goal is to change the conversation around this issue within the context of Microsoft. During her time there, she knew a co-worker who was prescribed medication because of a chronic back condition, but Terri did not understand substance use disorder or dependence, nor the daily struggles her co-worker experienced. Others at Microsoft may also have challenges with pain management or rely on prescription medications while trying to work while seeking the right treatment plan. It is her belief that at all levels of American society we need to bring these issues out of the shadows. They need to be front and center so we can find solutions.
She hopes the Microsoft Alumni Community and everyone impacted by this issue will join her in her effort.