Training students to properly prescribe buprenorphine can help curb the crisis.
Researchers believe that incorporating educational opportunities into medical school curriculums would enhance student awareness and knowledge of the current opioid crisis. It may also allow students to develop or further state-of-the-art programs and services to address addiction. In general, an opioid-centered curriculum for med students “improves awareness of pain management and treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) and may help mitigate the current opioid crisis in the U.S.,” researchers found.
The study included more than 400 medical students at the university who were willing to undergo training. “Our study showed that implementing training for medical students about opioid use disorder and its treatment improves knowledge and understanding of clinical principles and may better prepare students to treat patients with this disorder,” said study investigator Kimberly Hu, MD, psychiatry resident, Ohio State University (OSU).
The nationwide opioid crisis has led to the loss of thousands of lives to overdoses every year “and there’s evidence it’s getting worse, “said Hu, who added, “U.S. Data from December 2020 to December 2021 show opioid-related deaths increased by almost 15%…In 2019, about 70% of the nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involved opioids and now it exceeds 100,000 per year….80% of heroin users report their addiction started with prescription opioids.”
There is currently insufficient access to buprenorphine, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT). As the first of its kind to be approved, it is typically integrated into a broader plan that addresses the “whole person.”
“Insufficient access to medications for opioid use disorder remains a significant barrier for patients,” said Hu. “Training the next generation of physicians across all specialties is one way that we can work to improve access to care and improve the health and well-being of our patients.”
Researchers provided the participants with in-person or virtual training for prescribing buprenorphine, as well as in-person clinical experience. They tested the students before and after this and estimated “improvement in knowledge (score 0 to 23) and approach to clinical management principles (1 to 5).” There was also “a statistically significant increase in overall knowledge (from a mean total score of 18.34 to 19.32; P < .001) [as well as] a statistically significant increase in self-reported understanding of clinical management principles related to screening for and treating OUD (from a mean of 3.12 to a mean of 4.02; P < .001).”
Based on these findings, Hu believes that it is important to ensure medical students are trained by their third year in school, just before they enter residency in their chosen discipline. This was supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
“Providing them with this knowledge early on allows them to incorporate it as they continue their training,” Hu said. “If they are able to screen their patients in any specialty they eventually choose to go into, then they can help link these patients to resources early and make sure there aren’t patients who are slipping through the cracks.”