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Med Students Join Fight Against Addiction, Overdose

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Brown University’s medical school has teamed up with Rhode Island Hospital to teach future doctors how to address opioid addiction and overdose. They’re...

Brown University’s medical school has teamed up with Rhode Island Hospital to teach future doctors how to address opioid addiction and overdose. They’re using a nearly $1million federal dollar grant to create a new curriculum.

And the need could not be more urgent. Just last week the Centers for Disease Control reported that half a million Americans have died from accidental drug overdoses in the past 15 years, mostly involving prescription painkillers and increasingly heroin.

Doctor Paul George from the Alpert Medical School at Brown says only a handful of medical schools teach students how to fight this epidemic.

“As medical educators we really need to provide our students with the knowledge and skills to combat this epidemic," said George. "You know, we view this like heart disease or cancer. It’s something that affects the health of our population."

George says that although the curriculum is already jam-packed, space had to be made for this new material. Starting this spring, students will be exposed to a variety of strategies to manage patients, prescribe fewer painkillers, and intervene with patients who might be at risk. 

Brown shares the grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration with Rhode Island Hospital, where residents and fourth year medical students will learn how to interview and guide patients at risk in the emergency department. The hospital’s injury prevention center director Dr. Michael Mello says that takes practice, and not every emergency department staffer is up to speed.

“That’s kind of a unique skill set because our time with the patient is limited. So we have to be very efficient in what we do. And we have to be efficient at identifying those at risk, those with substance abuse disorders…”

And guide them into treatment, if they’re ready.  Mello says the training will complement efforts already underway to reach out to overdose survivors, like connecting them with peers in recovery and distributing the overdose reversal drug Narcan. 

Brown University's Alpert Medical School will team with Rhode Island Hospital to teach students how to recognize - and intervene - when a patient may be at risk of opioid addiction or overdose.
Brown University's Alpert Medical School will team with Rhode Island Hospital to teach students how to recognize - and intervene - when a patient may be at risk of opioid addiction or overdose.