What you'll learn

  • Opioid use and addiction and how it has evolved over time
  • Medical and non-medical use of opioids, including heroin and fentanyl
  • How to manage pain with and without opioids
  • The risks and neurological pathways to opioid addiction
  • That addiction is a disease of the brain, not a lack of will, and there are multiple ways people can become addicted to opioids
  • The individual and social impacts of opioid addiction

Course description

Opioids are a drug class that includes the illegal drug heroin as well as powerful pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many others. In 2016 more than 42,000 people died from overdoses involving opioids, and 40% of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid. Every day in the United States more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for not using prescription opioids as directed. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and opioid addiction is driving this epidemic.

This course challenges preconceptions about addiction and about who can become addicted to opioids. Our primary goals are to reduce the stigma that exists around addiction, help prevent overdose deaths and encourage people to learn about the multiple pathways to treatment. You will learn about these topics from a variety of medical experts and hear from people who have experienced addiction themselves, or who have lost a family member to an overdose.

Course outline

  • How has opioid misuse evolved and spread? Why is this a public health crisis in America?
  • Are opioids "bad" drugs, or are there appropriate ways to use them?
  • What counts as misuse and what can happen when you misuse opioids?
  • How does opioid addiction affect an individual, their family, and the community?
  • How can opioid overdose be treated and prevented?
  • How can opioid misuse and addiction be treated?
  • What does the process of long-term recovery from opioid addiction look like?

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Medical School

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