Confronting the Opioid Crisis
Nursing colleges add curricula to deal with a growing public health problem.
By Grace Bird
Nurses are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. As the first faces many patients see, nurses have the opportunity to identify individuals who are addicted, and they can also save lives by administering naloxone, an “opioid antagonist” that reverses the effects of an overdose.
But many nursing colleges are only relatively recently adding programs about preventing and treating opioid addiction.
Deborah Finnell, associate professor in the department of acute and chronic care at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Nursing, said that since she arrived at Hopkins about five years ago, she’s made a concerted effort to push for more instruction on substance use, which she said is lacking in nursing programs across the country.
Finnell co-authored a report published by Nurse Educator last year that said nursing programs lacked curricula on substance use disorders, and offered ways to remedy this problem. The emergence of the opioid crisis has emphasized the need to better inform nursing students about addiction, the report says.
“Nursing curricula have not kept pace with the growing public health crises related to alcohol and other drug use and the expanding evidence base for treatments,” the report states, adding that curricula on addiction haven’t changed much in four decades.
Nurses have an important role in combating the opioid epidemic because they can intervene before an addiction spirals, the report says.
New Courses Trickle In
Over the past year or so, a number of nursing schools have introduced programs to teach students to prevent and treat an opioid addiction or overdose.
At the University of Pennsylvania Nursing School, starting this fall, the nursing program will offer an undergraduate elective, Opioids: From Receptors to Epidemic, which includes a lecture on overdoses, according to Peggy Compton, an associate professor, who will co-teach the class with Heath Schmidt. The course covers acute and chronic pain, the composition of opioids, the pathophysiology of opioid addiction, treatment options, the historical foundations of the crisis, and current policies regulating opioid distribution. While the class is geared toward nursing students, it’s open to all majors “because the implications go beyond health care,” Compton said via email.
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