For several years, Ohio has been struggling with a deadly opioid abuse problem – and the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine has stepped up to lead the charge against it. A day of health policy discussion for first-year medical students Feb. 3, on the theme of “Healing Ohio’s Opioid Crisis,” is only the latest example of the college’s ongoing commitment to bringing the principles of osteopathic medicine to bear on this issue.
As Executive Dean Kenneth Johnson, D.O., noted in kicking off the college’s fourth annual Health Policy Day, stemming the painkiller epidemic is “deeply important to the medical school, and to the citizens of Ohio, and something that we have been working on consistently and deeply for years.” Unintentional drug overdose became the state’s number one cause of accidental death in 2007, and currently Ohio leads the nation in the number of deaths by opioid overdose.
The Heritage College has taken a leading role in understanding and alleviating this public health calamity through community outreach programs to help patients with drug dependencies and through enhanced efforts to prepare its students to deal with the issue as practicing physicians. It is no coincidence that one of the first state officials to sound an alarm about the crisis – state Rep. Terry Johnson, D.O., who co-authored a 2011 law cracking down on “pill mill” pain clinics in Ohio – is a 1991 Heritage College graduate, and was among the speakers at the Feb. 3 event.
The college was in the first set of medical schools to answer a 2016 call from the White House requiring students to undergo prescriber education aligned with Centers for Disease Control guidelines before they can graduate. Under the direction of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Nicole Wadsworth, D.O. (’97), and in conjunction with Ohio University’s Office of Instructional Innovation, the Heritage College is producing a mini-documentary film for students about the issue. Produced by Sarah E. Adkins, Pharm.D., Ohio University visual communication student Evan Schmidt, and Kyle Rosenberger from Instructional Innovation, the film stresses the use of the CDC guidelines and promotes osteopathic manipulative treatment as a form of pain management. Adkins was also a panelist for Health Policy Day.
The college’s Community Health Programs tackle the opioid problem at the patient level, with programs including one aimed at getting opioid-dependent pregnant women into medication-assisted treatment before they give birth.
And as Anita Steinbergh, D.O., a member of the State Medical Board of Ohio and an assistant dean at the central Ohio clinical campus, reminded students at Health Policy Day, the college hasn’t forgotten that opioids can harm physicians as well as their patients. Citing 2015 statistics, she said that of disciplinary cases taken before the board, 29 percent had to do with physician impairment through drugs or alcohol, while another 25 percent dealt with prescribing issues. Steinbergh promised the students that when they become physicians, “This is going to be very real to you.”
During Health Policy Day, more than 240 medical students from all three Heritage College campuses took part in discussions about the roots of the opioid crisis and how they may help to heal it as osteopathic physicians.
Highlights included a panel of state officials – Rep. Johnson; State Medical Board President Amol Soin, M.D.; and Justin Trevino, M.D., assistant medical director of the Ohio Department of Health Mental Health and Addiction Services – discussing what the state is doing through legislation and regulation to combat the opioid problem. This segment of the event was organized with the help of the Ohio Osteopathic Association and its Executive Director Jon Wills, who moderated.
Dan Skinner, Ph.D., Heritage College assistant professor of health policy, provided a brief review of the issue’s history and urged students to “ask why our society makes such an easy target for the sale and abuse of opioids.”
Two second-year medical students, Alex Myers and Macey Brandeberry, shared accounts of how opioid abuse by friends and loved ones has touched them personally. Both stressed that a physician must always remember the addict’s shared humanity, and try – even when it’s difficult – to practice the osteopathic values of empathy and treating the whole person.
A panel of medical practitioners shared insights from the front lines on how the opioid issue has affected their practice.
The panel included Katy Kropf, D.O. (’02), Heritage College assistant professor of family medicine; Cleanne Cass, D.O., administrative medical director of Hospice of Dayton; Adkins, a clinical pharmacist with the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, who has a pharmacy practice in Athens, Ohio, and teaches classes on drug information at the Heritage College through a partnership with Ohio State; and Stevan Walkowski, D.O. (’89), an associate professor and chair of the college’s Department of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine.
They covered topics ranging from how to handle “drug-seeking” patients to the need for physicians to be better educated on non-opioid alternatives for pain, whether those are different types of drugs or interventions such as OMM.
A repeated theme was the need for empathy and honest communication with patients, whether they’re addicted to painkillers or sincerely seeking pain relief.
“You don’t have to throw your empathy out the window just because you feel manipulated,” Kropf advised.
“Learn how to talk with your patients, because they want to know what you think,” Adkins added.
In what might have served as a fitting tagline for the day, Terry Johnson reminded students that as osteopathic physicians, their best guideline for dealing with opioids should be the dictum that it’s all about the patient.
“Make this about healing,” he advised. “Make this about getting well.”
The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. For more information, please visit our website at www.ohio.edu/medicine . CARE LEADS HERE.