Skip to content

New Study Tests a Curriculum for Medical Students on Detecting and Treating Opioid Use Disorder

  • May 21, 2022

New Orleans, La., May 21, 2022 — From December 2020 to December 2021 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. increased by nearly 15%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2019, 70% involved opioids. A presentation at this year’s American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting examined one approach to ending this crisis: offering focused training as part of the medical student curriculum.

A critical step in addressing the ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S. is ensuring health care professionals have the knowledge and training to recognize and appropriately treat people with opioid use disorder. Researchers at The Ohio State University developed and tested a curriculum to educate medical students about opioid use disorder and provide training on the use of buprenorphine in treatment.

Opioid use disorder affects patients seeking care in every specialty of medicine, the study authors note, and educating medical students early on about opioid use disorder and available treatments has been identified as a priority.

Insufficient access to medications for opioid use disorder remains a barrier for many. Physicians must complete specialized training to be able to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder if prescribing buprenorphine to more than 30 patients. Effective management of acute and chronic pain is also an important part of addressing the opioid crisis. Among heroin users, 80% have reported their addiction began with use of prescription opioids, the researchers note.

The researchers provided more than 400 third-year medical students with education on opioid use disorder and managing acute and chronic pain, training on the use of buprenorphine in treatment, and in-person clinical experiences between January 2019 and April 2021. By the end of the training, 82% of the students involved said they knew how to manage acute pain, 77% said they could detect opioid use disorder in a patient, and 62% felt confident they could manage chronic pain. This study provides evidence that in-person and virtual training of undergraduate medical students in opioid use disorder better prepares students to recognize and treat patients with opioid use disorder in the future.

The study authors, with Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University, include Kimberly Hu, M.D., Julie Niedermier, M.D., Amanda Start, Ph.D., Casia Horseman, M.D., and Julie Teater, M.D. This project is supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

Join Today