I just finished speaking at and attending South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, and it was a great experience.

This event creates a convergence of talent and culture from music to film to health to game changing people and ideas that may change the world.

Our session was entitled Hacking the Opioid Epidemic. Our moderator was Sree Sreenivasan, an amazing person and social media guru. Co-panelists were Karen Horgan from Val Health, a company founded on the principles of Behavioral Economics applied to healthcare, and Sandeep Kapoor from Northwell Health. Northwell is doing great work inculcating opioid education and screening into their healthcare delivery and medical system.

SXSW panelists

We also had an amazing connected audience who were very engaged throughout.

My takeaways from the panel is that we need to think much differently about this epidemic than we have before. As in most complex systems, a few things are responsible for much of the effect. In this crisis, we agreed that perhaps the driver of the epidemic is trauma - childhood, family and community. That is, perhaps the opioid crisis is a symptom of the real problem of a lack of safety, love, connection and wholeness.

We heard about behavioral economic approaches to this crisis - creating social nudges and choice architecture to move people to a different and safer outcome than drugs from Karen.

We also heard about the great work at Northwell Health from Sandeep educating future physicians and working to drive preventive care to primary care offices.

But as is often the case, the smartest stuff came from the audience. From a mom with an addicted son, to leaders of academic powerhouses like Washington University in St Louis, to Kaiser Permanente, to Recovery Experts, the penetrating issues were drawn out.

Treat people as people, not numbers. Care about and for our communities and families. Care about each other. Move healthcare to health and look at opportunities to network with industry sectors with complementary skills.

In fact, we discussed the power of films like WV’s own Oscar-nominated filmmaker Elaine Sheldon who made the wonderful and inspiring film, Heroin(es) and the darker film about Oceana, WV, Oxyana by director Sean Dunn. In Oceana, so many people were addicted to opioids at the time of the film, that they were thought to be “Oxycuted” if they died (died from an overdose of OxyContin).

The power of stories and hope penetrated our discussion as did new opportunities in health and a return to wholeness and healing.

The convergence of talent, of commitment and of a network of talented humans that want to make the world better.

A great experience and a reason for hope for a better future.

SXSW is Almost Heaven.