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Thousands Enroll in Med School Course on Opioids

An online Harvard Medical School course that focuses on opioid abuse treatment and prevention has drawn over over 7,500 enrollees since its launch on March 27.

Individuals from over 100 countries have enrolled in “OpioidX: The Opioid Crisis in America,” with the majority hailing from Brazil, United States and Canada, according to Sarah E. Wakeman, an assistant medical school professor who was involved in the creation of OpioidX.

Harvard Medical School Quadrangle
Harvard Medical School.
Created with a team of physicians, researchers, legal experts, pharmacists, and individuals affected by opioid epidemic, the OpioidX course provides its audience with the molecular science of addiction as well as historical context of opioid abuse. The course also teaches actionable steps such as preventing opioid overdose deaths or helping affected individuals gain access to proper medication and treatment.

The course will provide continuing education credits to professionals who work in human resources, and approval for credit in other profession fields is currently being filed.

“There are many ways that we need to be addressing the opioid crisis, which is an epidemic of unintended death due to untreated opioid addiction,” Wakeman said. “The opioid use disorder and death from opioid use is really the public health crisis of our time.”

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 33,000 individuals—including 1,751 in Massachusetts—died in 2015 as a result of opioid overdose, which Wakeman said was “easily preventable.”

The program’s launch came around a year after a group of Medical School students calling themselves the Student Coalition on Addiction demanded curricular changes at the School to better equip students to treat opioid addiction. Then-Dean Jeffrey S. Flier, in an interview with STAT News , rejected the students’ demands and said the Medical School did not “agree with the idea of taking pledges with what to put in our curriculum.”

Second-year Medical School student Siva S. Sundaram, a member of the Student Coalition on Addiction, is now a discussion moderator for OpioidX. Sundaram said that he was “impressed” with the depth of course, which features individuals who were affected by addiction.

“I think [the course] is a way of taking a deeper look at a topic that is getting a lot of press but without a lot of depth,” Sundaram said. “It’s a way to learn about what it is like to experience opioid addiction…and a way to humanize the person, to help fight some of the stigma still pulling us back.”

Sundaram said that he encourages Harvard undergraduates to “flip through the course” given that Harvard is “embedded in one of the largest centers of the opioid crisis,” which isn’t always apparent to many undergraduates.

“There is real but slow improvement,” said Sundaram, “but it is really important for people to understand what is going on in the community.”

—Staff writer William L. Wang can be reached at william.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @wlwang20

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