Lab Matters Spring 2020 - Page 13

PARTNER PROFILE Now that opioids are being treated as a public health issue, will this help laboratories get funding to set up their own opioid biosurveillance programs? Yes, there’s been a lot of headway made. It definitely is a public health issue with opioid use pervasive across the public. One of the issues across multiple types of laboratories—forensics, public health, private testing, pain testing—was the need for consistent reference materials. CDC and APHL recognized they could assist all of them by providing the correct reference materials for testing targets. Together with APHL, DEA and the US Department of Justice, we helped create a set of traceable opioid material (TOM) kits that enhanced the quality of testing across the US to improve the characterization of the opioid epidemic and obtain better information to help address it. You’ve had a hand in developing the Laboratory Response Network (LRN), which recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary. What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in how the LRN works? I would say one of the biggest changes that strikes me is the fact that the network, when it first began, was geared towards large emergencies or emergencies involving weapons of mass destruction. In public health, you really have to pay attention to what’s right there in front of you. So in the last five to 10 years, the LRN has been retooled and re-tasked to support local emergencies as well as major events with a national impact. It’s been very rewarding to see local entities responding to their own needs in everything from the water crisis in Michigan to biomonitoring to different natural disasters. The way that federal, state and local laboratories connect and share data has radically changed over the past five years. What are some lessons learned from the EVALI response that public health laboratories can put into practice today? State laboratories were able to take the lead in this major response and then share the burden across the LRN, working collaboratively with CDC. To facilitate that, there had to be very effective communication first on what was the nature of the emerging threat. Some of the big things that happened across the network were the use of “cutting-edge” resources, the characterization of the initial threat, and then the sharing of large amounts of laboratory information on a more consistent level so that we can get our hands around the entire threat. The LRN was able to provide a bridge for all of those activities. Even though we are consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still work being done, especially to characterize some of the EVALI fluids that were used. There are still publications coming out on EVALI, and there’s information that needs to be shared to characterize what happened and to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future. It’s fair to say coordinating COVID-19 has put a strong burden on the system. But one of the big objectives in public health is to always to make sure that you close out the last epidemic, learn everything you can from it and prepare for the next one. APHL has worked continuously with CDC to advance and build the LRN. How can APHL continue to support the LRN’s efforts? APHL is one of the reasons that the LRN has been transformed into a network that can handle challenges at many levels and represent many interests. The LRN is no longer something which is newly established—every year it grows in its own way. It’s as though the LRN has its own career and that career is moving forward. It has its own pulse and you can feel it when you go to a meeting. Through the presence of the network we can take care of problems in the present and we’re preparing for the new and more difficult challenges in the future. One of the best parts of the partnership between APHL and LRN is the ability to look forward. Because the reality is by the time an emergency shows up, it’s too late to prepare for it. n PublicHealthLabs @APHL Spring 2020 LAB MATTERS 11