Public health school launches open online courses on opioids

The Milken Institute School of Public Health is going online to address a national health concern.

The public health school is focusing on solving the nation’s growing opioid epidemic with two new online courses that faculty developed through a partnership with the D.C. Center for Rational Prescribing, a division of the D.C. Department of Health.

Susan Wood, an associate professor of health policy and of environmental and occupational health, said the two courses, “Myths and Facts about Opioids” and “Getting Patients off of Opioids,” are aimed at current medical professionals who prescribe medications.

Wood said the modules will help health professionals understand the history of opioid addiction and provide potential solutions for the epidemic.

“This is not an easy problem to solve,” Wood said. “We hope that this will add to what is already out there and contribute to a better understanding.”

Many victims of the addiction crisis became addicted to opioids because health care professionals overprescribed the medications, which was largely influenced by pharmaceutical companies, Wood said. She said these courses are independent from pharmaceutical companies and therefore provide a balanced approach to solving the problem.

“A push by industry to increase marketing towards these products, in areas where this might not be appropriate, form a good portion of the problem,” Wood said. “The slice of this that we’re trying to address with these education materials is to help from the side of the prescriber, to help know how we got where we are.”

The opioid courses count for 1.5 credit hours each and are designed to only take about 1.5 hours to complete. The courses are laid out in a simple-to-understand video format with a pre-test and a post-test to ensure that students comprehend the material.

If completed successfully, the credits count as Continuing Medical Education, a required accreditation system for practicing medical professionals that ensures they stay up-to-date on the latest treatments.

The courses target medical professionals but are open to the public and designed for anyone to understand, Wood said. Although there is a $20 fee for people who do not live in D.C., anyone can watch both video modules for free on the webpage of the Department of Health’s Center for Rational Prescribing.

These new courses are the latest in a series of eight produced as part of a partnership between the D.C. Department of Health and GW, with topics ranging from geriatric care to proper medical cannabis use, Wood said. She said two modules on the treatment and prevention of HIV will be released by the end of the calendar year.

Assisted by two masters students, Wood and professionals from the Department of Health worked with Anna Lembke, a leading expert in the field of opioid addiction at Stanford University, Christina Prather of GW’s Medical Faculty Associates and other medical professionals at GW and Georgetown University.

Lembke said that although these courses are not the first of their kind, others have ties to big pharmaceutical companies. The pharma-funded courses can incentivize doctors to prescribe more painkillers than necessary, something Lembke and Wood both said is a leading factor contributing to the epidemic.

The courses produced by the public health school are more “evidence-based” and are separate from pharmaceutical industry funding, Lembke said.

“One of the reasons that they began overprescribing was because was because they were being told to,” Lembke said. “They gave the doctors the impression that this was based on scientific fact.”

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