A First, Texas University Trains Every Health Student to Administer Overdose-Reversal Drug
By Mary Huber
Starting in 2019, Texas A&M University will be the first university in the nation to train all of its health science students to administer the drug naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
This will include more than 5,000 students each year from the pharmacy, dental, nursing, medical and public health schools, and is being done in response to the growing drug crisis in the state, said Marcia Ory, vice president of strategic initiatives at the university's Health Science Center.
Students will take a 90-minute course to learn how to administer the drug. They then will train other students across disciplines and within the greater community.
Naloxone is available in a nasal spray or intramuscular injection and restores normal breathing in the event of an opioid overdose. Its availability nationwide has led to significant reductions in deaths from opioids in some states.
Texas A&M Pharmacy professor Joy Alonzo, who is spearheading the new program, said the idea is to breed a new type of clinician, one who is knowledgeable about opioid addiction and how to treat it.
More than 1,300 people died in Texas from opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. While the rate of deaths is smaller in the state compared to other places, experts have repeatedly said that reporting is skewed because of a lack of trained medical examiners in Texas who can spot an overdose and record it on death certificates.
The numbers could be even higher, they have said.
Ory said Texas A&M Health Science Center wanted to do something to combat the problem before it gets worse. It formed an opioid task force this year to address issues related to the crisis.
Teaching students to administer naloxone will be among its first initiatives.
"From now until the opioid crisis is over, we will be training every student that comes through our doors," Alonzo said. "We teach all of our health professionals students to be CPR-certified, it's the same idea."
The program will also include education on what opioid use disorder is, how to spot an overdose, as well as addiction risk factors and myths.
"The ultimate goal is to destigmatize substance use disorders and teach providers -- and society in general -- to consider it a chronic health condition, not a lack of willpower or a character flaw," university officials said in a statement about the program. "Naloxone doesn't solve the problem or help people overcome addiction, but it does save their lives so they have the opportunity to seek treatment."
The training is being added to course curriculum for all campuses, including those in Round Rock, College Station and Houston, and comes at no additional cost to students.
The naloxone itself is being made available through state funding for the opioid crisis.
About 60 Health Science Center students have already been trained to administer the drug, which has resulted in five successful opioid overdose reversals so far, Alonzo said.
They were taught by representatives from the University of Texas's Operation Naloxone, which has been focused on expanding access to the drug since it was founded in 2016.
Pharmacy professor Lucas Hill, who manages the UT program, said it has trained hundreds of people at the university to administer the drug since that time. Pharmacy students are required to take the training. However, it has been voluntary for other students and is not mandated across health sciences schools. Several hundred students have opted to take the course, Hill said. All staff and resident advisers for university student housing and UT police also have been trained, he said.
Hill lauded Texas A&M for jumping on the program and applying it across the health sciences professions.
"I think it's a big step, and I would like to see every health profession student in every school in Texas receive this sort of training," he said.
Hill said he would like to see a similar breadth of program at UT.
"I think the biggest barrier is just getting administrators and faculty leaders to create the space in their curriculum to make that sort of training become mandatory," he said.
Naloxone is available at most pharmacies in Texas without a prescription. Technically, Texas does not have a statewide "standing order," which would allow all pharmacies to distribute the drug, but Hill and state lawmakers want the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to make one available so that small pharmacies, especially those is rural areas, can offer the medication at lower costs.
Hill said the most important thing is to get naloxone into the hands of addicts and their family and friends, who are usually the first responders to an overdose.
"My bias is always toward diverting as much as medication as possible to those individuals," he said.
(c)2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas