In Fresno County, the opioid epidemic has skyrocketed in recent years, leading to a public health crisis that has shed a light on addiction and mental health issues among the most vulnerable in our region.

With the opioid crisis affecting the Central Valley, faculty from the College of Health and Human Services and California Health Sciences University (CHSU) set out to bring awareness and knowledge of this epidemic to the classroom. In March 2019, the two universities launched an interprofessional journal club, as a way to engage students, faculty and healthcare professionals in discussion, problem solving and learning-based activities that build on collaboration, but also delve into the deep roots of the opioid crisis that hits close to home for so many. The goal is for each individual to learn and work together to improve the health of the greater Fresno community.


Eventually, the club evolved into what it is known as today – Students and Practitioners for Interprofessional Collaboration and Education (better known as S.P.I.C.E.). Since its inception, nearly 40 students from the two universities have met consistently each month. What started out as involvement among just three health disciplines (pharmacy, nursing and kinesiology) has now grown to well over 12 disciplines including those also in public health, recreation therapy, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, social work, dietetics, psychology, physican’s assistants, and pre-medicine. Faculty and health professionals from each of these areas also attend monthly.


The collaboration will continue this academic year, but will look a bit different as all sessions will be transitioned to a virtual format. On September 12, the new season will kick off with a naloxone training and certification workshop, which will include education of the competencies required to administer naloxone – a medication designed to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. 

During the training participants will be taught how to respond to an opioid overdose and then practice these responses in virtual groups. To complete the workshop and receive certification, participants will have their skills of responding to an overdose and administering naloxone verified. All registered participants will receive a naloxone kit. 

“Substance use disorders affect people from all walks of life and all age groups,” said Dr. Marie Gilbert, director of the Central California Center for Excellence in Nursing at Fresno State, and one of the faculty involved in S.P.I.C.E. “Knowing how to respond to an opioid overdose can save a life.”

For Dr. Rebecca Leon, assistant professor of clinical sciences at CHSU – College of Pharmacy, the opportunity to build this S.P.I.C.E. initiative in the Central Valley was rooted in her own experiences. 

“Before my family and I moved to Fresno, we lived in San Francisco, where I practiced as an ambulatory care pharmacist,” Leon said. “I worked closely with providers and patients who had chronic conditions to manage their diseases and medications. When I moved to Fresno, I found that many providers had not experienced before collaborating with a clinical pharmacist in a role like mine, and, therefore, they were resistant to the idea.”

Leon sought out to change the healthcare landscape in the Valley, and after joining the faculty at CHSU, began exploring the idea of the interprofessional journal club for health professionals and students and faculty in the field. A collaboration with the CHHS at neighboring Fresno State was a natural fit, as the college has been implementing the interprofessional education model since 2015


Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Valley, the monthly sessions took place at the CHSU campus, just 10 minutes from the Fresno State campus. Students from various health-related majors had the ability to connect face-to-face with peers and gain insight from seasoned professionals in the field. 

The learning opportunities from these sessions benefit both students and faculty alike, said Gilbert.

“During S.P.I.C.E. meetings, I learn a lot from professions that I normally wouldn’t work with,” said Gilbert. “That is the power of collaboration. We live in complex environments and solutions to the significant health and wellness issues within the Central Valley requires collaboration.”

Gilbert is among four faculty at Fresno State who have taken a direct role in the S.P.I.C.E. initiative, along with Dr. Nancy Nisbett with the Department of Recreation Administration, and Dr. Scott Sailor and Dr. Stephanie Moore, both with the Department of Kinesiology. Along with Leon, Dr. Maya Leiva, also is among the CHSU faculty involved.


Gilbert says the opportunity for CHHS and CHSU students and faculty to collaborate among each other, and with local health professionals, is an invaluable learning experience. 

“Through collaboration S.P.I.C.E. faculty have been able to develop a range of interactive interprofessional learning activities for participants, as well as develop projects that will improve the health of our local community, including the monthly workshops,” said Gilbert. “The collaboration allows students and professions who wouldn’t normally learn or work together the opportunity to discuss topics and issues, and identify potential solutions by considering diverse viewpoints.” 

Positive and enlightening feedback from student participants have kept the workshops going strong. 

“I thought this was a real eye-opener,” said one student. “It definitely challenged me to think of ways to address this topic and think of solutions. It was great to hear from a broad variety of inter-professionals and their perspective on patient care and clinical experience.”

“I enjoyed having conversations about each profession occupation and how their perspectives differ from mine but also how we can connect the two to build a better interpersonal relationship with our clients,” another student commented. 

Future workshops are scheduled each month, through May 1, 2021 with each session focusing on a different aspect of the opioid epidemic, from treatment and recovery to understanding mental health, and more. 

Registration for the September 12 workshop is open now. However, to receive the complimentary narcan kit, participants must register by Friday, September 4. 

To learn more about the SPICE collaborative and to view future workshop dates, visit

[Note: All photos shown are archived from the 2019 academic year.]