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Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Arizona Doctoral Candidate Helps Promote Opioid Dental Education Policy

Mr. Omar A. Contreras, is a doctoral candidate in public health policy and management at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health (MEZCOPH) and former 2009-2010 Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fellow.

As the opioid crisis continues to impact communities across the United States, academic institutions in the health professions are critical in training and educating the next generation of practicing dentists, physicians, nurses, public health practitioners, and others on the prevention of opioid misuse. With over 12 years of experience in public health policy and epidemiology, and service at the CDC and the Arizona Department of Health Services, Mr. Contreras authored The Role of Dental Education in the Prevention of Opioid Prescription Drug Misuse, a policy brief highlighting strategies that demonstrate academic dentistry’s contributions to combating the opioid epidemic. He is the director of policy research at the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), based in Washington, DC. ADEA is The Voice of Dental Education that includes all 76 U.S. and Canadian dental schools, more than 1,000 allied and advanced dental education programs, 66 corporate partners and more than 20,000 individuals. This policy brief has elevated the critical role of dental educators in curtailing the opioid epidemic from a multifaceted and collective approach, and has helped informed researchers and partners from the National Institute of Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Policy considerations highlighted on this brief were most recently shared with members of Congress and their legislative staff at the ADEA Congressional Briefing at Capitol Hill to examine the impact of federal funding for dental education and training programs on rural communities and the opioid crisis. At ADEA, Mr. Contreras is committed to advancing policy research that addresses contemporary problems in dental education to improve the oral health of the public.

He credits his growth as a public health professional and academic to the ASPPH fellowship. The ASPPH fellowship was the impetus to Mr. Contreras’s training in epidemiological and policy research, disease prevention, health disparities, and community health organizing through partnerships and coalitions at the local, state, and federal levels. As his dissertation chair, Dr. Cecilia Rosales, associate dean and professor at MEZCOPH-Phoenix states, “Omar has not only demonstrated his abilities as a leader, but he has proven to be a resourceful professional with outstanding analytical and personal skills with an exemplary ability to working across diverse sectors to empower constituencies for the improvement of public health.” While in Washington, DC, Omar is completing his dissertation on evidence-based research to inform diabetes prevention policy in Arizona.