Context: From 2000 to 2019, drug overdoses, combined intentional and unintentional, were the number one cause of death for Americans under 50 years old,with the number of overdoses increasing every year. Between 2012 and 2018, approximately 85 % of all opioid users obtained their opioids through prescriptions from healthcare providers, predominantly physicians. Increased education about the severity of this issue may increase the likelihood of physicians integrating alternative forms of care such as cognitive behavioral approaches, nonopioid therapies, and nonpharmacologic therapies into treatment plans for chronic pain.
Objectives: This study investigates medical students’ beliefs, experiences, and perceived impact of opioids at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM) and University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences (UT).
Methods: A total of 377 students from OU-HCOM (years 1–4, n=312) and UT (years 1–2, n=65) were surveyed on their beliefs, experiences, and perceived impact of opioids. Multiple t tests were conducted to compare the difference in perceived severity and stigma between participants who were impacted by the epidemic and those who were not. A Kendall rank test was performed to analyze the relationship between the county drug overdose rate and perceived severity for medical students. p <0.05 defined statistical significance for all statistical tests performed in this study.
Results: In comparing medical students’ personal experiences with the opioid crisis, it was found that many more participants had experiences with an affected classmate or patient (4.1; 95 % CI, 4.0–4.2), as opposed to direct experiences within their family or group of friends (1.9; 95 % CI, 1.8–2.0). However, this group of participants who directly experienced the opioid crisis were found to be more likely to view the crisis as more severe in Ohio’s adult population than those without that direct experience (p=0.03, α=0.05). The difference in experience and severity outlook did not make one group of medical students more likely to hold a stigma toward those struggling with opioid addiction (p=0.3, α=0.05). The study did not find a significant relationship between the county drug overdose rate and the perceived severity among medical students (R=0.05, p=0.6, α=0.05).
Conclusions: This study gave an insight into the beliefs, experiences, and perceived impact of opioids within a group of 377 medical students. It was shown that differences in background can lead to differences in perception of the crisis. Knowing these differences can lead to beneficial changes in education and curriculum design in medical education.