Harvard Med Students Demand Better Training to Address Opioid Addiction Crisis

Students at Harvard Medical School are calling for better opioid overdose and prescription management training, in response to what they see as a lack of coursework on the subject. See what is being done to fight the opioid epidemic that claims tens of thousands of lives in the US each year.

opioid training Harvard

Students at Harvard Medical School are calling for better training on preventing and treating opioid overdoses, in response to what they see as a lack of coursework on the subject amidst a growing opioid epidemic.   According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the US has seen a three-fold increase in opioid pain reliever deaths from 2001 to 2014, from approximately 6,000 deaths per year to a figure exceeding 18,000. Heroin (also an opioid) accounted for another approximate 10,000 overdose deaths in 2014. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid overdoses in the US are continuing to climb, with no sign of slowing anytime soon.

Calls for a Comprehensive Curriculum

The students have recently reported having to organise their own training on the use of naloxone, a fairly new medication used in emergency overdose response and the treatment of opioid-induced respiratory or mental depression. They have also launched a campaign to raise awareness of naloxone, including where to buy it and how to administer it.

According to medical students, Harvard’s current curriculum does not address the realities of the opioid scourge and casualties resulting from it.  Michael Botticelli, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, points out that the rate of overdose deaths in each state is closely linked to how widely doctors have been prescribing opioids.  Says Botticelli, “There is little to no education within medical education curriculums around addiction and safe prescribing.”

US medical schools begun to offer courses on addiction and prescribing opioids in 2014, but they were optional.  The fact remains that medical professionals still commonly overprescribe painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin, a practice attributed largely to American pharmaceutical companies’ aggressive marketing strategies.

The Origins of the Opioid Epidemic

Opium has been cultivated and used recreationally and for pain since 3400 BC, and has been used in the US since the early 19th century.  However, it was not until 1996 that Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, touted as a “miracle pill” for pain sufferers at the time.  The company claimed that the strong pain reliever held little to no potential for abuse because of its time-release properties. Unfortunately, that proved to be far from true.

It was not long before OxyContin became one of the most sought-after drugs on the streets, with addicts crushing the pills and snorting or injecting them, comparing the high to that of heroin. Opioid tolerance builds quickly, which is why opioid use is accompanied by such a high risk for addiction.  What starts as occasional use can quickly increase as it takes a higher and higher dosage to achieve a sufficient high.  With heroin being less expensive and often more easily available than painkillers, it is no wonder that prescription painkillers are a common gateway to heroin addiction.

As the medical community began to catch onto the addictive qualities of the drug, practitioners were encouraged to decrease the frequency in which they prescribed it.  Unfortunately, however, many people were already hooked.

National Efforts to Curb Opioid Abuse

In 2010, Purdue Pharma released a new version of the drug containing an abuse-deterrent mechanism, meaning the pill was harder to crush and dissolve, designed to decrease snorting and injecting. However, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) still claims that four out of five new heroin users started out by misusing prescription pills.

In February of this year, the Obama Administration asked congress for $1.1 billion to address prescription opioid and heroin abuse.  The plan proposes medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders, expanded access to drug treatment programmes and multi-level education initiatives.  Nationwide, policies at the federal and state levels are gearing toward reducing the availability of prescription opioids.

Why We Need Education on Prescription Drug Addiction

Education on all levels is invaluable in stemming the opioid epidemic.  According to NIDA, “In states with the most comprehensive initiatives to reduce opioid overprescribing, the results have been encouraging,” with a reduction in overdose deaths resulting from a multi-faceted approach to opioid control.  Current efforts include educational initiatives delivered in school and community settings, and implementation of overdose education and naloxone distribution programs.

In 2015, the Massachusetts Medical Society announced a ground-breaking medical school program” available at all Massachusetts medical schools (including Harvard) that offers training on prescription drug abuse prevention – a sign that the medical community is making an effort to respond to the needs of the nation.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

The stereotype of heroin addicts being homeless in the streets is far from reality.  As heroin and opioid abuse has crept steadily upwards over the past couple of decades, addiction to these dangerous drugs has been affecting the lives of even the country’s most affluent. Addiction is a disease, and it does not discriminate.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of addiction to prescription pills or heroin, it is important to seek help immediately. At The Cabin Chiang Mai, our Western-trained counsellors use our own unique and effective treatment programme, Recovery Zones, which combines cognitive behavioural therapy, 12 Steps methodology and mindfulness therapy to deliver an addiction treatment programme that really works. With a completion rate of 96%, our programme is highly regarded by the medical community around the globe, and is strictly confidential. Contact us today to see how you can get started on the road to recovery.