Med schools learn how to deal with opioid epidemic



opioid-use disorder

The opioid epidemic has been sweeping the nation over the last few years. According to the CDC, nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014. That number continues to rise. Between 1999 and 2015, more than 180,000 people died from overdoses linked to prescription opioids. With opioid abuse increasing, it is important that medical schools learn how to deal with this crisis.

Opioid Epidemic

What are med students learning about opioid abuse?  Medical students are taught the pharmacological aspects of medications which include the following: their mechanisms of action, indications, contraindications, and side effects. Robert Goldberg, director of strategic medical initiatives at Touro College and University System, says “But there’s a disconnect between the use of opioids and the universe in which they are prescribed—one in which the psychosocial and economic environment may quickly overshadow the pain syndrome that was the reason the narcotic was prescribed.”

Associate professor of clinical internal medicine and associate dean for medical education at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, John Davis, thinks that the best time for physicians to learn about issues such as the opioid crisis is in medical school. While in medical school, students should learn how to prevent addiction, detect addiction and how to manage it when it occurs.

Physicians need to be familiar with the CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain so they know if and when it’s necessary to prescribe opioids. In 2016, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy issued statements emphasizing their commitment to opioid-related education and training. Medical and pharmacy schools have pledged to incorporate the CDC’s guidelines into their programs. For example, Keck Graduate Institute Pharmacy program uses these guidelines in its therapeutics module on pain control, which addresses the assessment and treatment of pain.

Other areas of opioid education in medical schools will include teaching students how to do the following: recognize/treat patients with an opioid disorder, use prescription drug monitoring programs, use urine toxicology screens to assess substance misuse, treat/refer patients to medication-assisted therapies, know when to prescribe naloxone, and taper opioids in patients when necessary.