College faculty collaborate on interprofessional training to combat opioid epidemic

In the face of the escalating opioid epidemic, the need for comprehensive and collaborative care has never been more urgent, particularly in rural regions where access to health care resources can be challenging. Recognizing this critical issue, the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty have come together with faculty from the Colleges of Nursing and Medicine and Eastern Washington University (EWU) School of Social Work to develop a groundbreaking training program focused on pain management and opioid misuse. This unique initiative, funded by a significant grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), has provided vital training to thousands of students and health care professionals, with the potential to substantially impact patient care.

The Interprofessional Team
College faculty members Connie Remsberg and Jennifer Miller are part of an interprofessional team leading the charge to change education and practice. The team began its mission in 2018, driven by a shared commitment to address the opioid crisis effectively. In 2018, the team received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in partnership with Washington State Department of Health (WADOH) to create an interprofessional education training program. This training uses realistic case scenarios to foster cooperation and learning among students from diverse health care disciplines, such as pharmacy, nursing, and medicine.

“The opioid epidemic accelerated during the pandemic. We are facing more overdose deaths now than ever before. Providing care to patients who have untreated pain, which causes a whole continuum of symptoms, requires collaborative care. A team approach is needed to help provide perspective,” said Remsberg who guides student pharmacists through simulations with standardized patients.

The Training Program’s Unique Approach
The training program incorporates simulated patient cases that allowed various future health care professionals to develop their expertise. One case involved a patient who had suffered a car accident, leading to chronic back pain that was treated with opioids–possibly inappropriately – raising the question for students to evaluate. The case also revealed that the patient struggled with depression and substance and lacked a prescription for Narcan, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose. The complexity of this case underscored the importance of collaborative care in treating patients with opioid-related challenges.

Since its inception, the program has continually expanded, demonstrating its efficacy in equipping future pharmacists and other health care professionals with the necessary skills to address opioid misuse and pain management. The training sessions, which started in-person and transitioned to virtual, have involved over 2,500 students from the WSU Colleges of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Medicine, and Nursing, as well as EWU and other regional institutions to promote interdisciplinary interactions and interprofessional understanding.

Importance of Interprofessional Training
As the opioid epidemic continues to surge, the demand for well-prepared and compassionate pharmacists is more pressing than ever. The CDC estimates that nearly 83,000 people in the United States have died from opioid overdose in 2022 alone. That is almost double the number of car accident fatalities in the nation each year. The interprofessional training program plays a pivotal role in fostering a team-based approach to patient care, breaking down silos between health care disciplines, and enabling student pharmacists to develop a more comprehensive understanding of opioid misuse and pain management. By bringing together student pharmacists to interact with various professions, including social work and addiction studies, this training empowers future pharmacists to collaborate effectively and offer holistic care to those affected by opioid use issues. Extending this expertise into more health care disciplines gives people with poorly managed pain or substance use problems more opportunity to access needed care.

The Rural Challenge
Rural areas face unique barriers in providing comprehensive health care, including the treatment of opioid misuse. Recognizing this, the interprofessional team is dedicated to bringing this valuable training to rural regions in Washington state. The HRSA grant allows faculty to offer versions of the student training to practicing professionals in rural clinics, providing them with simulated professional experiences to enhance their skills. Additionally, wellness events addressing burnout among health care professionals have been organized to support those on the frontlines of opioid care in underserved areas

Looking Ahead
WSU Health Science graduates will be interacting with hundreds of people in their future workplaces requiring high quality pain management and appropriate opioid use. Interprofessional training sessions are planned to continue into Spring 2024 and beyond to ensure that the health care workforce is prepared to join the fight against the opioid overdose epidemic.

About the Team
In addition to CPPS faculty, the interprofessional team includes Dawn Dewitt, Skye McKennon, Jennifer Anderson, Carrie Gigray, and Janet Walker from the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine; Marian Wilson, Ross Bindler, and Heather Striker from the WSU College of Nursing; and Rie Kobayashi from EWU School of Social Work.
You can learn more about their training by visiting their website.

Recent publications:

  • Interprofessional Education to Address Substance Use among Adults with Persistent Pain: A Pre-Post Program Evaluation (link)
  • An Interactive Online Interprofessional Opioid Education Training Using Standardized Patients (link)

Categories: Faculty