July 21, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers medical school adds opioid drug administration into curriculum

Roughly 115 people die from opioid overdoes daily, leading the cause of drug-related deaths at 66 percent


The Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) will now require its students to undergo training that qualifies them to administer buprenorphine, a new medication called used to combat opioid drug use from substances such as oxycodone and morphine. 

As part of its new updated curriculum, the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) will require all of its students to receive training that qualifies them to prescribe a new medication to treat against opioid abuse disorder. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 115 people die from opioid overdose every day, and up to 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths involve these substances. There has been a steady rise in abuse of these drugs over the last 16 years and the issue is rooted in the fundamental systems through which opioids are manufactured and prescribed, according to Levounis.  

Opioids refer to a class of drugs that are used to relieve pain. These drugs act on opioid receptors in the body to reduce pain and relax patients. This class of drug includes many prescription and recreational substances such as oxycodone, methadone, morphine, fentanyl and heroin that have invaded American communities at an alarming rate.

Petros Levounis, a doctor at NJMS and the chair of its Department of Psychiatry, and his colleagues are spearheading the medical school’s initiative to make sure that all students are trained and well educated in prescribing a new medication called buprenorphine to combat the opioid epidemic.

“Buprenorphine is a treatment for opioid abuse disorder. It is a relatively new medication that has helped millions of people around the world and is available to patients in the United States in a number of different forms,” Levounis said. “It is internationally very well researched and very well known. There are some new things about buprenorphine, some new methods of delivering it. The molecule itself, the medication itself, has been very well researched.”

The synthetic opioid has become an important part of opioid treatment by both reducing addict dependency and partially satisfying their cravings to prevent withdrawal and its complications.

“On one hand, it blocks the opioid receptors so patients cannot get high while on the medication,” Levounis said. "At the same time, it keeps them partially activated so it reduces cravings for heroin and other opioids. It satisfies the strong desire for opioids that addiction creates while preventing dependence from getting more severe."

Buprenorphine has some similar properties to other drugs like heroin and oxycodone, but has a much lower addictive potential and less severe side effects, making it less dangerous. It is nearly impossible to overdose on buprenorphine, which is not the case with other medications used in treatment such as methadone, Levounis said.

According to a press release by NJMS, “all graduating NJMS medical students will be trained and eligible for the necessary waiver required by licensing boards to prescribe this effective medication. As trained NJMS students move on to practice, access to treatment for patients suffering from opioid use disorders will increase.”

This initiative will make the medical school one of the first institutions to implement mandatory buprenorphine prescription training for all of its students.

Rutgers has two major methods for combating opioid abuse with medicine — the first being prevention. The medical school teaches its physicians how to prescribe painkillers responsibly, using practices different from those decades ago that lead to the current heroin epidemic, accoring to Levounis. The second is treating opiate addiction,  as Buprenorphine becomes an essential part of the treatment plan and medical student education. 

“In 2018, Buphrenorphine is a first line treatment of opioid addictions,” Levounis said.

Andrew Petryna

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