SPHS 12 3 16 1000x698

Event Offers Pharmacy Students a Better Understanding of Opioid Abuse and Professional Roles

A 68-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer is hospitalized to better control her pain. Aware that the woman’s caretaker—her adult son—was treated in the past for a heroin addiction, her medical team schedules a home visit following her discharge. The visit proves troubling: The woman is still in pain, and her medications are missing. Her son soon confesses that he’s taken the drugs—not for his own use, but to sell them to pay his mother’s medical bills.

This was the scenario presented to the 220 students from the School of Pharmacy at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), the nursing program at Riverside Community College, and the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside who attended an interprofessional education event held in Riverside on September 23. Intended to increase awareness of the national epidemic of opioid abuse, the program asked participants to consider the ethical dilemmas involved in the case from the perspectives of the patient, caregiver, and healthcare providers.

“How do you handle this in a sensitive manner while obeying professional rules and regulations and respecting the patient’s rights? It was a very complicated case, and it was exciting to see them figure it out,” says Tania Stewart, director of interprofessional education and assistant professor of clinical science at KGI’s School of Pharmacy.

Stewart notes that pharmacists have an ethical duty to contact a patient’s physician when questions related to opioid abuse arise. She also explains that California pharmacists check the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System to look for trends that suggest opioid misuse.

The event focusing attention on opioid abuse was required of all second-year KGI pharmacy students. It was presented as part of a larger interprofessional education program launched at KGI in 2015 to promote communication and understanding across health disciplines.

“There are so many misconceptions about what pharmacists do and how much we can contribute to a team. We want to provide a better understanding of roles and responsibilities so students don’t have stereotypes about any health professions and are able to contribute to better patient care,” says Stewart, who anticipates adding students from physician assistant and emergency medical technician (EMT) programs to future sessions.

She believes the chance for KGI pharmacy students to learn how to communicate effectively with other health professions is vital. Stewart explains, “Miscommunication between providers ultimately delays patient care. We’re educating students to anticipate potential breakdowns in communication so that when they graduate, they’ll know how to conduct themselves as members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team. It’s too late once a life is at stake.”