The opioid epidemic in the United States is familiar to most people. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, each day more than 130 people in the United States die from overdosing on opioids. This crisis does not discriminate by age, gender, race or socioeconomic status.

Here at the University, Dr. Amy McKeever, PhD, RN, CRNP, WHNP-BC, an associate professor in the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing and an advanced women’s health nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology, felt the pressing need to educate her students by preparing them to deal with substance abuse disorders, especially the opioid epidemic.

The Nursing seminar entitled, “The Opioid Crisis in America,” meets weekly for two hours. This relevant course provides students with the time needed to understand the magnitude of the growing issue of opioid use in the community and out on the streets. McKeever’s goal of the course is to introduce her students to the many issues that surround addiction. In particular, she wants students to understand the social dynamic of substance abuse disorder: the many emotions including guilt and shame and how it affects more than just the individual. Throughout the course, students learn how to connect and screen a patient and how to handle a patient who comes into an emergency room suffering from an overdose.

McKeever uses unique resources to make the course alarming as well as relevant. She brings in a number of guest lecturers, including a nurse who works in recovery at a crisis center and addresses the screening assessment and the detox process; a medical doctor who has treated patients at the women’s prison at Riker’s Island; first responders who work in stressful environments; a military police officer; a certified addiction counselor; and members of a family who have lived through a sibling or child’s addiction.

An additional guest speaker presents about their child’s trajectory from the onset of opioid abuse and full addiction, up to the time of death. These individual lecturers show how the opioid crisis is taking over America.

In addition, McKeever provides a historical perspective on opioid use and how it has changed from Egyptian times to the Victorian era, followed by the early 1900s when there was a prevalence of opioids, which again during the Vietnam War period. She notes that women have historically been targeted for opioid use for reproductive and mental health needs.

As part of their coursework, students are required to watch a film of their choice and do a reflection about the drug use depicted. Students then share their findings with the class. Another key area covered in the course is screening tools for opioid use, such as the Prescription Drug Monitoring program, a data base in which practitioners are given a national provider number.

“The Opioid Crisis in America” provides an informative look into an epidemic afflicting many Americans today and teaches students what they can do to help.