WVSOM addresses opioid issue with educational series for students

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Front Row: Jan Rader, Huntington fire chief (left); Lt. Brian Baker, of the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department; and Rev. Dr. Jana Stoner, quick response team; Back Row: Jovan George, ACONP president (left); Julianna Quick, WVSOM student counselor/learning specialist and the Neuro-Psych Club advisor; Tzu-En Lin, ACONP vice president; Haylee Heinsberg, WVSOM Center for Rural and Community Health education director; Azana Panni, ACONP secretary; and David Gerlach, first-year representative.

One medical school in West Virginia is taking another step toward educating future physicians about an issue that has made headlines and has made its way to the forefront of the health care profession in the state.

The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) is addressing substance use and opioid addiction through an educational series designed for students. This was the first time the school offered an opioid series aimed toward students. The original idea for the series came from Jovan George, a second-year medical student and WVSOM’s chapter of the Neuro-Psych Club president.

The series included five sessions that addressed panel topics such as family and patient perspectives; first responders and law enforcement perspectives; management, treatment and naloxone administration; and health professional management and treatment.

One session included the screening of the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary Heroin(e), which follows three women – a fire chief, a judge and a street missionary – battling West Virginia’s opioid epidemic. The documentary was followed by a discussion with Jan Rader, Huntington fire chief and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people for 2018; Rev. Dr. Jana Stoner, quick response team; and Lt. Brian Baker, of the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department.

Julianna Quick, a WVSOM student counselor/learning specialist and the school’s Neuro-Psych Club advisor, helped organize the series. She said one goal of the series was to increase knowledge and awareness of the opioid epidemic among first- and second-year students.

“Another goal of the series is to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and increase awareness of resources throughout the state,” she said.

Third- and fourth-year students completing rotations in clinics and hospitals throughout the state will have access to recordings of the series. In addition to the information presented throughout the series, the certificate of completion could help medical students showcase their specialized knowledge when applying for residency programs.

The educational series was coordinated and sponsored by WVSOM’s chapter of the Neuro-Psych Club and WVSOM’s Center for Rural and Community Health (CRCH), which provided funding. The CRCH has played a major role in bringing awareness of substance use in West Virginia during the past few years.

The center – whose goal is to improve the health and well-being of West Virginians and positively change the state’s health profile through research, education and outreach opportunities – was a partner in the creation of the Prescription Opioid and Heroin Awareness Toolkit: A Prevention Guide. The toolkit was designed to bring awareness to the rising epidemic in the state and offer resources for those trying to recover. It was developed in collaboration with the Greenbrier County Community Addressing Prescription Drug Epidemic (CARxE) Coalition.

The toolkit was first presented in October 2017 at the West Virginia Rural Health Conference, and, as a result, neighboring counties began expressing an interest in it. During that time, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal funding agency that addresses substance abuse, began using it as a model for other areas of the state – hoping to replicate the toolkit statewide.

To date, printed and electronic versions of the prevention and awareness toolkits are available in Greenbrier, Boone and Mercer counties. Electronic versions are available for Cabell and Kanawha counties, with printed copies available soon. Toolkits in Fayette and Wyoming counties are in development, and 10 additional counties are planned for this year.

In 2017, West Virginia led the nation in age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, with a rate of 57.8 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CRCH and CARxE Coalition hope the toolkit will prove to be one example of how to address this crisis while also addressing the stigma associated with opioid use.

The toolkit has also gained national exposure. Drema Mace, Ph.D., the executive director of the CRCH, and Haylee Heinsberg, CRCH education director, presented “An Opioid Toolkit: A Rural Community Education Project” at the National Rural Health Association’s annual conference in May 2018 in New Orleans, La. The toolkit, along with a provider packet and a series of public service announcements, were shared.

WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., said the medical school will continue to find ways to raise awareness and provide resources to address this issue that has adversely impacted the state.

“We are one of the major players in addressing this crisis in regard to education, prevention and the possibility of what we can do with treatment and workforce development,” Nemitz said. “Being able to provide resources like the opioid toolkit and an opioid education series for our students will continue to help reduce the stigma of substance use and hopefully work toward reducing the number of people affected by this epidemic.”