Prescription pills spilling out of a bottle.
Academic Innovation | 10/24/2022

Activity Prepares Students to Combat Opioid Epidemic as a Team

Prescription pills spilling out of a bottle.

Participants gathered to learn about opioid use disorder and discuss how to address it together.

Kayla Garvey, PharmD ’23, was working behind the counter at a pharmacy when two women rushed in, desperate for help. Their friend had overdosed on opioids and was in the parking lot, unconscious. Naloxone, a prescription medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, could help.

Garvey, currently enrolled in an accelerated Doctor of Pharmacy program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), recalled this moment in a recent discussion with peers. Unfortunately, her experience is common in the United States amid an opioid epidemic. This national crisis has been the focus of Interprofessional Education Day at MCPHS for the past six years.

Offered on all three MCPHS campuses and online by the Interprofessional Education (IPE) Working Group - Worcester/Manchester, the event is dedicated to preparing future healthcare providers to identify opioid use disorder and work as a team to treat it. Students from the following programs attended: acupuncture, dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, and physician assistant studies.

“It’s a national epidemic, and the management of opioid use disorder takes a multidisciplinary team, so the students need to learn to rely on and utilize each other’s roles before encountering it in practice,” said Assistant Dean of Interprofessional Education and Professor of Pharmacy Practice Kaelen Dunican, PharmD.

More than 700 students, including Garvey, participated in the virtual event, which was designed to foster dialogue. Students attended online training, presentations, and collaborative meetings to better understand the interprofessional approach to preventing and treating opioid use disorder. A recorded interview conducted by two MCPHS faculty members with a patient in recovery from opioid use disorder was particularly poignant.

“The patient highlighted how members of the healthcare system helped him become sober and healthy,” explained Bryce Edwards, PharmD ’23. Like Garvey, Edwards is enrolled in an accelerated Doctor of Pharmacy program. “It was beautiful to see how many advocates patients have; they have pharmacists teaching them safe ways to use prescription drugs and educating them about Narcan (the brand name for naloxone), nurses trying to prevent injuries and diseases, social workers looking into living situations, and physician assistants and doctors sending referrals to mental health professionals.”

Each attendee underwent naloxone training, which saves thousands of lives in Massachusetts alone each year. During the event, healthcare students are encouraged to train their patients how to administer naloxone and earn a certificate of training themselves so that patients such as the one Garvey encountered may be saved.

The Interprofessional Education Day highlights that the healthcare community is working together to support patients with opioid use disorder and fight the epidemic.