Preparing Our PA Students to Prevent Opioid Misuse
Stephanie McGilvray, PA-C, MMSc

August 10, 2022

As a PA who practiced in the emergency department for five years, I have experienced the opioid crisis firsthand and understand its impact. Now as an educator and program director, I understand it is imperative that PA students understand as much as possible about it too. Upon graduation, PA students must be prepared to treat many different conditions. Prescribing opioids for treatment is part of their education. This is especially important as we recognize that this country is experiencing an opioid epidemic. So as an educator, it is important to think about more than addiction with the opioid epidemic and consider how a provider should prevent opioid misuse. There are safe measures for prescribing opioids – ones that can prevent misuse and potentially overdose deaths.

Many of the PA students who attend the University of South Alabama PA Studies Program will practice in Alabama upon graduation. Alabama providers prescribe opioids at a higher rate than in many other states in the nation. As a result, they are watched more closely today by their licensing boards. PAs must understand that prescribing opioids can lead to tolerance and dependence and can cause patients to need higher doses to control their pain. This makes this education even more important today than it was years ago. And, this education often falls on the shoulders of the PA programs.

For the past two years, the University of South Alabama has participated in the PA Foundation’s virtual lecture series on preventing prescription opioid misuse. Based on these virtual presentations, the Foundation has also created educational resources that address opioid misuse prevention, including how to make good treatment decisions when considering opioids, cognitive biases in medicine that impact opioid prescribing, and how providers should approach conversations with patients when prescribing opioids. These materials are virtual, making them easily accessible.

This spring, PA students participated in the PA Foundation’s newest lecture module on the topic of preventing opioid misuse in special patient populations. The presentation outlined specific patient populations who might be at higher risk for substance use disorders, including patients in the LGBTQ+ community, youth and young adult surgical patients, palliative and hospice care patients, and patients in OUD recovery. Students learned ways to be patient-centered in their efforts to prevent opioid misuse and to build trusting, respectful relationships with patients, such as by avoiding stigmatizing language. The webinar was interactive and the students were able to answer questions using their phones, allowing them to engage and enjoy the learning experience. Through this seminar each student gained valuable knowledge about best practices for treating pain among populations with unique vulnerabilities.

As a supplement to the virtual lecture, the Foundation launched a new resource page on its website earlier this month with materials highlighting key content from the program. Resources include five videos, each of which explores a different element of preventing prescription opioid misuse in special populations, a podcast episode (coming soon), downloadable infographics and one-pagers, and links to articles and websites. In addition, the page includes a special interactive module that provides background information on special patient populations, outlines risk factors for prescription opioid misuse, dispels myths and misconceptions, and offers strategies to improve outcomes. Students can answer quiz questions and complete interactive activities as they go. These resources are free to access and use.

The PA Foundation is providing PA programs with tools and educational materials that are impactful and teach providers how to responsibly prescribe opioids. In gaining this knowledge, I know students will be better equipped to take better care of patients, and that is the ultimate goal. The University of South Alabama PA Studies Program is proud to have been a participant in these programs, and I encourage students and faculty at other programs to utilize the Foundation’s valuable resources on this important topic.

Stephanie McGilvray
Department Chair and Program Director
University of South Alabama PA Studies Program

Editor’s note: In addition to its new resource page on Preventing Prescription Opioid Misuse in Special Patient Populations, the PA Foundation has two additional online modules related to preventing prescription opioid misuse, free and accessible on the Foundation website.