Sarah T. Melton, PharmD, BCPP, BCACP, FASCP
Professor, Pharmacy Practice
Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, TN
I stood to the side of the classroom and watched my student leader interacting with a woman who had tears streaming down her face. She had just completed the REVIVE! naloxone training for opioid overdose emergencies with one of my student leaders, Jason Sparks. As she spoke to Jason, I heard her say “thank you for bringing this life-saving training to us.” She continued to speak with him as other students joined the circle to hear her testimony. Her husband had died from an oxycodone overdose 9 months earlier. “If I had known about naloxone and had this training, I could have saved his life,” she said.
Moments like this change a student’s professional insight and develop key skills not regularly afforded in a traditional classroom setting. Engaging student pharmacists in training to combat the opioid overdose emergency helps mold them into change agents, ready to take skills into their own communities to prevent tragedies resulting from substance use disorders.
At the Gatton College of Pharmacy (GCOP), student pharmacists are passionate about naloxone education and distribution. Students engaged in the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists joined with Generation Rx, a program from the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists, to provide naloxone outreach activities across Tennessee and the southwestern part of Virginia.
In Virginia, students provide naloxone training through the REVIVE! curriculum at key events such as the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Clinics that are set up in rural, medically underserved areas. Through collaboration with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and the Virginia Department of Health, intranasal naloxone is dispensed to participants at no cost. Over the past year, over 1500 participants have been trained in lay person rescue at these events. The significance of these trainings to those with friends and family members at risk of overdose is apparent in a video where they discuss the value of the trainings in their own words.
In Tennessee, students developed a layperson and healthcare provider training titled “Volunteer to Save a Life.” The development of the learning modules was interprofessional and included students from pharmacy, medicine, and public health. The GCOP partnered with the Tennessee Department of Health to provide continuing medical education to healthcare providers at no cost. In order to have student pharmacists trained to go into communities across the state, the GCOP traveled to four other colleges of pharmacy. Within a month’s time, over 900 student pharmacists were trained to deliver layperson trainings across the state. Assistance and collaboration from Wes Geminn, PharmD, BCPP with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was key to making the state-wide initiative successful.
In 2015, Brandie LeBlanc, a third-year student pharmacist at GCOP with training as a critical care nurse, worked with the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine to develop a comprehensive continuing education program titled “Pharmacists, Opioid Safety, Take-home Naloxone, and Preventing Overdose.” At the time of the expiration of the program, over 33,000 healthcare providers had completed the education. Encouraging student pharmacists to develop and provide continuing education programming on naloxone is an excellent way to encourage networking, but also to meet a need for interprofessional educational projects. Interprofessional education is a key standard for accreditation by the Accreditation Council of Pharmaceutical Education.
Through the naloxone outreach activities, student trainers are asked to engage with community organizations, state and national legislators, and the media. For example, students trained community members on naloxone rescue at a town hall where the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, discussed the state of emergency with regard to the opioid overdose deaths in the Commonwealth. Senator Tim Kaine attended a REVIVE! training led by student pharmacists and then became an advocate for forward thinking legislation on opioid use on the national level. Students engage the media through multiple routes including interviews, writing pieces for the newspaper, and inviting reporters to attend naloxone training events.
The GCOP offers trainings for students to be certified in naloxone outreach and education throughout the academic year. While naloxone rescue for opioid overdose emergencies is included in the didactic curriculum, learning how to be a trainer is co-curricular programming. On a biweekly schedule, the naloxone training is offered during “Lunch and Learn” sessions. Training alternates between curricula from Virginia and Tennessee and close to 100 percent of our students have chosen to participate in the trainings and attain certification.
Developing a vibrant program with students as naloxone trainers can be initiated by engaging with key partners in the community. These include the local departments of health, community substance use coalitions, mental health organizations, medication assisted treatment facilities, and other healthcare professional schools. Student pharmacists are uniquely positioned to be advocates for opioid overdose education. Through CPNP and other student organizations, there are many opportunities for training and engagement of the community. Through these opportunities, we can develop and cultivate agents of change to help reverse the opioid overdose crisis on local, state, and national levels.