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California Med Schools Shift Focus Toward Opioid Crisis

Just how serious has America’s opioid crisis become? So serious that combating it is now part of regular med school curriculums. California’s own UC San Francisco School of Medicine made headlines this week after opening up new fellowships on addiction treatment, with a special emphasis on painkillers.


The new initiative is actually being funded by the city and county of San Francisco. Its goal is to incorporate dependency medicine into overall pre-med courses. This goes beyond psychiatric training, which is where something like this would typically lie.


The San Francisco Chronicle went on to profile this important shift, interviewing one of the fellowship participants who is in the midst of the new program. Dr. Hannah Snyder currently works at SF General Hospital and explained to the site why she decided to expand her training. Part of the reason was because she began seeing the ravages of opioid addiction firsthand.


“Patients were coming in with skin abscesses and heart valve infections over and over again,” Dr. Snyder explained. “Both are common medical complications from long-term use of heroin, when injected with needles that are not sterile. We would give them antibiotics and send them on their way, but that doesn’t get to the root of the problem.”


The UCSF experience includes a partnership with Ward 93, a methadone clinic at Dr. Snyder’s hospital where patients meet to discuss treatment options and review their recovery progress. She is also working with medical facilities across the U.S. to create new protocols for helping patients battling opioid dependencies. This includes managing methadone and buprenorphine prescriptions, which have been used to successfully combat withdrawal symptoms.


And the movement is continuing in other parts of NorCal as well. Stanford University recently opened up their School of Medicine to include lectures about opioid treatments. So far, several new courses have been added which include safe painkiller prescribing patterns and counseling techniques to help patients battling substance abuse.


“It’s the dawning awareness within the medical community that addiction in general is a growing problem in our patient population,” Stanford Medical School rep Dr. Anna Lembke told The Chronicle. “The opioid epidemic has put it front and center in a way that gives people permission to focus on it. Suddenly there are research dollars available to study it, and federal grants. It has momentum it never had before.”


This is certainly a positive step forward for our state and hopefully one that makes its way south to medical schools across Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.