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Responding to the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

Hannah DePoy - Narcan Training
By Cindy Shepard Rawlins -

In September 2020, the Virginia Department of Health reported that drug overdoses in Southwest Virginia were up 11% since the start of 2020. The Class of 2024 at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia campus took this information and chose to make a difference by committing to a goal of 100% participation of their class in naloxone training. While this training was not an academic requirement, the class effort demonstrated the community-minded physicians they plan to be in the future.

Naloxone (or Narcan®) is the only medication approved to block or reverse the life-threatening effects of opioid or narcotic overdoses.

“The opioid crisis in the United States has had a profound impact on the lives of so many. With overdose-related deaths climbing again during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we need to ensure our rising healthcare professionals feel competent and confident in their ability to intervene in an overdose situation now more than ever,” said Hunter Funk, Class of 2023. “The Class of 2024 reaching 100% participation in our voluntary initiative shows how committed they are to serving the needs of their community, and I am honored to have been part of a training team that shares such a deep passion for substance use awareness.”

Students Set the Goal

During the 2019 and 2020 academic years, two Substance Use Awareness Weeks were led by Class of 2022 students Megan Schlegelmilch, then President of the Emergency Medicine (EM) student organization and Hannah DePoy, then Chair of the Bioethics and Humanities in Medicine Committee. These Awareness Weeks included naloxone training for interested students. Over 200 students, faculty, and staff were trained by the EM student organization.

The EM student organization took this one step farther, hosting a “train the trainer” event, where over 30 students trained to become REVIVE (Virginia’s naloxone training program) trainers.

With overdose-related deaths climbing again during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we need to ensure our rising healthcare professionals feel competent and confident in their ability to intervene in an overdose situation, now more than ever.

Hunter Funk, VCOM-Virginia Class of 2023

DePoy and others became part of the new sub-group within the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA), the Overdose Prevention Task Force (OPTF). The vision of the OPTF is to eliminate overdose deaths around the country through osteopathic medical student education, advocacy, and action The organization has worked tirelessly to establish College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) Leaders on every osteopathic campus to further its mission. Last year, Hunter Funk, Ami Shah and Katlyn Logsdon, all Class of 2023 members, led VCOM-Virginia’s Overdose Prevention Task Force (OPTF) COM Leaders. This year’s leaders are: Cynthia Dillon, Gabriel Cox, and Pragna Sutrave, Class of 2024.

“Training students to administer naloxone is essential to fulfilling our duties as future osteopathic physicians. Not only does this program educate individuals on the science behind opiate addiction, but it also aids in de-stigmatization efforts. So many of us either know or are familiar with someone who faced opiate addiction,” said Ami Shah. “Throughout the past year, it has been both a humbling and profound experience to have the opportunity to teach others about the impacts of opiate addiction, naloxone, and the stigma surrounding it. While also learning the stories and motivation behind students to learn more about how we can work together to become more prepared, impactful, future osteopathic physicians.”

The Inspiration Behind the Initiative

Student-doctor DePoy was first introduced to Jean Bennett, PhD. Dr. Bennett has become a source of continued inspiration and assistance in related endeavors and was the first to introduce DePoy to the collaboration between Philadelphia medical schools that yielded naloxone in the pockets of all first-year medical students’ white coats.

Inspired by their successes, this brainchild began growing as DePoy imagined the possibility of bringing together all medical schools in Virginia and West Virginia to achieve this same goal. Supported by Virginia campus Dean Jan Willcox, DO, the VCOM-Virginia COM leaders and Jessica Higgins, the 2020-2021 President of the student Emergency Medicine organization, worked to broaden naloxone training efforts to include ALL first-year VCOM-Virginia students.

“The Revive! training program empowers Virginians to save a life from opiate overdose. As a trainer, I was impressed to see the Class of 2024 step up and take on this commitment, especially under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic that already made their first year more difficult than most,” said Jessica Higgins, Class of 2023.

Training Programs Uplift Students and Trainers

Due to the pandemic restrictions, students were eager to get involved on campus, even through virtual meetings. From late fall until early spring, numerous small training sessions were held until they reached their goal of 100%. “We were hopeful but realistic that the demands of medical school would likely translate to a lower completion rate. To say that we were blown away by student involvement would be an understatement,” said DePoy.

During training sessions, they would sometimes invite students to share their reasoning for taking the training. Many students reported their desire to gain additional skills that might save a life. Others felt their knowledge regarding OUD, and overdose treatment could be bolstered. But what continued to touch the trainers deeply were the countless students who shared how they had been personally affected by those with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and opioid overdose.

“Even as the child of someone who lived with SUD, I needed the reminder of the pervasiveness of this disorder. SUD knows no bounds, and statistically, not only do many students have loved ones living with SUD, some students, just like practicing physicians, also live with SUD,” said DePoy. “Our calling as osteopathic physicians to address the multidimensional wellness needs of our patients even extends to caring holistically for ourselves and our colleagues.”

DePoy hopes that one-day naloxone training will be implemented into the Basic Life Saver (BLS) course. This training includes CPR and is required for medical school matriculation.

“This osteopathic medical school class, matriculating during a time of social distancing and challenging opportunities to contribute to the community, showed their leadership and committed to 100% participation in Naloxone training. This goal was accomplished before their white coat ceremony. Adding to the impact and significance of this story is the fact that VCOM-Virginia second-and third-year medical students led the training,” said Dean Willcox.

Naloxone training, while only one hour in length, provides students with evidence-based skills to treat opioid overdose while also addressing topics that may promote a non-stigmatized introduction to OUD. 

Editors note: This program has now been successful for TWO years. Both the Class of 2024 and now the Class of 2025 became voluntarily trained prior to their respective White Coat Ceremonies.

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