Blue Devil of the Week: Leading the Charge for Opioid Safety

Professor of Medicine Larry Greenblatt lends voice, expertise to fight against opioid epidemic

In both clinical and policy settings, Larry Greenblatt is helping ease the problem of opioid safety.
In both clinical and policy settings, Larry Greenblatt is helping ease the problem of opioid safety.

Name: Larry Greenblatt

Title: Professor of Medicine and Professor of Community and Family Medicine, Medical Director of Northern Piedmont Community Care, part of the Population Health Management Office.

Years at Duke: 23

What he does: Greenblatt treats patients in his role as a provider of general internal medicine at Duke Outpatient Clinic and teaches students and residents as a professor in the Department of Medicine. That allows Greenblatt to see the health care system from many sides.

It was through this lens that he was able to be among the first wave of voices at Duke to raise alarm about the growing problem of opioid overdoses.

He was already aware of the drugs’ dangers, but when he saw worrying opioid-related trends among the patients managed by Northern Piedmont Community Care he knew it was time to act.

So in 2013, Greenblatt helped create Duke’s Opioid Safety Task Force. The task force, which included doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other health professionals, worked on setting up policies and procedures that could help stem the tide of opioid addiction. Among its accomplishments: Writing an opioid policy for Duke Health System’s outpatient clinics, creating educational materials for patients and providers, and crafting a pain management agreement that providers and patients can use to ensure each side is aware of expectations as well as the risks opioids pose.

After the task force was sunset in 2016, Greenblatt helped create Duke’s Opioid Safety Committee. The committee, of which Greenblatt was a member, aims to implement many of the task force’s initiatives, tackle new problems and work with partners both at Duke and beyond to find new ways to try to stem the tide of opioid overdose deaths and addiction.

In addition to his work with Duke, Greenblatt is also a member of the Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse Advisory Committee, which is part of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services. The group works on developing and implementing relevant health policy and collaborates with statewide stakeholders and local healthcare providers.

“The opioid problem is complicated, it’s sticky and it really requires a multi-faceted approach, there is no one fix, absolutely not,” Greenblatt said.

What he loves about Duke: “What I love about Duke is the people. There are so many talented, dedicated, energetic people and I feel like they’re a great resource for creativity and tackling difficult problems.”

Memorable day at work: Last year, the Duke Outpatient Clinic, where Greenblatt practices, won Duke University Hospital’s “It Takes a Team” award for their cohesiveness and ability to effectively collaborate.

It’s the second time in recent years the clinic has taken home the honor.

“It’s like the Stanley Cup, you get your name on there,” Greenblatt said. “I’m proud of that because we have a great team at our clinic.”

Best advice received: “When my kids were young, a friend of mine advised me to cut my hours back and work part time,” said Greenblatt, who went on to follow that advice.

Starting in 2002, Greenblatt was able to get in some priceless bonding time with daughter Corinne, now 19, and son Ryan, 17. He recalls helping out at his children’s schools and ferrying them to and from their many activities. He returned to work full-time in 2008.

“Duke was incredibly supportive of that,” Greenblatt said. “I continued to do much of my job, but not all of it, and when I was ready to come back, they were happy to take me back full time.”

First ever job: When he was in seventh grade, Greenblatt spent two afternoons each week at Temple Beth Sholom in New City, New York, helping younger students learn Hebrew. It’s a subject that he said he doesn’t recall mastering himself.

“I wasn’t awesome at it, but I was capable,” Greenblatt said. “I’m not sure why I got that job. Maybe they thought I would be a good tutor. I subsequently became a math tutor. I was much better at that.”

Something that most people don’t know about him: Whether it’s mountain biking or snowboarding, Greenblatt enjoys zipping through nature. The outdoor activity he enjoys most often is road cycling.

He rides with friends, mainly through the backroads of Durham and Orange counties, three or four times a week. The rides can range from around 15 miles to 60 miles.

“We’re pretty fast for being not-too-young,” Greenblatt said.

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