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FINDING HOPE: Idaho's first medical school teaches students opioid alternatives

Posted: 4:08 PM, Jan 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-22 00:18:39-05

MERIDIAN, Idaho — More than 100 people die every day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose, and many of those dealing with addiction first started with a doctor's prescription.

Inside Idaho's first medical school, the state's next generation of doctors is learning about osteopathic principles and practices - or OPP.

"Part of the osteopathic philosophy is to look at the person as a whole," OPP Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Davis said. "So, what are all the things that are playing into the disease state, the injury, whatever may be going on with them?"

As more and more Americans become aware of the potential addictive properties of prescription painkillers, faculty at Idaho's College of Osteopathic Medicine spend part of their modern curriculum teaching med students about the all important alternatives to treating everyday ailments.

"In the middle of this opioid crisis we've had some issues with over-prescribing," OPP Department Chair Dr. Dennis Rau Jr. said. "Some data indicates patients can be sensitized to opioids - in an addictive way - after just seven days, so certainly it helps to have other tools in the toolbox so you can help delay or maybe even not prescribe opiates."

"While opioids may be indicated in some instances, such as cancer pain or in a post-surgical kind of situation, for many of the common things we see, there are other treatments that we can use," Dr. Davis said.

ICOM students spend 200 hours during the first two years in a learning lab, putting their lessons to the test through hands-on experience working on fellow students.

"They really like the course in that it is different from their other courses where they just study and memorize a lot of things," Dr. Rau Jr. said. "Although their patients, per say, are just other classmates, they do get that feedback from them - 'too rough, too little' - so essentially their classmate partners are their first patients."

Students will graduate with hands-on knowledge that will help relieve patient pain while keeping opioids out of the hands of those who don't need them.