Carlson MBA students Elisha Friesema, Prachi Bawaskar, and Stephen Palmquist spent a month interviewing law enforcement members, public health workers, government officials, politicians, and various professional associations. Their goal: Finding a solution to the country’s opioid epidemic.

At least, that was what they were tasked to do at the annual Business School Alliance for Health Management (BAHM) Case Competition. And their work paid off. Not only did the Carlson team take first place, their winning paper is going to be submitted to the Surgeon General and the White House as well as being printed in the BAHM journal.

The case competition, which took place at the University of Miami on March 24, is another win for the Carlson Medical Industry Leadership Institute team. Representatives from the Carlson School took first place in 2014 and 2016, and second in 2013 and 2017 – more placings than any other team in the history of the competition.

This year’s competition was of special interest to the Carlson team members. “Stephen and I began talking about our interest in the case as soon as we heard it was about the opioid epidemic,” says Friesema, an ’18 MBA focusing on healthcare strategy.

The case, “Developing Solutions to the U.S. Opioid Crisis,” was far-ranging, as the crisis is a multi-dimensional program with roots dating back to the 1990s. As an estimated 12.5 million people misused prescription opioids in 2015 and 33,091 had died from overdoses, President Trump declared the epidemic to be a public health emergency.

Case competition participants were asked to select a community, identify the extent of its opioid abuse, and create an integrated and comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem.

The Carlson team chose Minnesota’s Hennepin and Ramsey counties. “The most significant unmet needs in these counties are the lack of community-based support to address the root cause of opioid use, controlling the spread of opioid use disorder, and meeting the most affected directly in their communities,” says Bawaskar, an ’18 MBA majoring in healthcare strategy and finance.

After the team conducted their interviews with various community stakeholders to get a grasp on the issue, it spent two weeks crafting its solution, writing a white paper, and preparing its presentation for the Miami event.

The team modeled its solution after Cure Violence, a program designed to combat violence in Chicago. The Carlson’s innovative plan was christened Community Empowerment to Address the Substance-use Epidemic (CEASE).

“Critical to the Cure Violence model was addressing violence as an epidemic disease, meaning that the problem transmits and spreads based on exposure,” says Palmquist, a dual ’19 MD/MBA student focusing on family medicine and healthcare strategy. “Our model applies a similar logic to the opioid crisis based on the prevailing public health understanding that exposure to opioids increases a person’s risk of using and abusing opioids.”

The CEASE model proposes that Hennepin and Ramsey counties provide targeted support to high-risk areas, attacking the epidemic in a manner similar to how public health officials would address and manage the spread of a contagious disease. By targeting many of the stressors associated with the social determinants of health, CEASE addresses the root causes of opioid dependence, resulting in a decrease in opioid-related mortalities and a net societal costs savings of more than $1.9 billion in its first year of implementation.

“Our model’s greatest strength is its flexibility to scale up or down depending on the unique needs of the community,” Friesema says.

BAHM judges in Miami also found great strengths in CEASE as they awarded the first-place prize to the Carlson School. The team is grateful for taking first and for the guidance of team advisors Mike Finch, Archelle Georgiou, and Jessica Haupt. Friesema, Bawaskar, and Palmquist are also hopeful that CEASE will be a template for the future in solving the country’s opioid crisis.