In your words

Quick steps med students & DOs can take to help address the opioid crisis

From training to advocacy to research, everyone in the osteopathic medical community has the opportunity to take part in efforts to reduce opioid abuse.

In 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. In 68% of cases—over 47,000—the person had taken an opioid.

Medical student activists are hard at work searching for the solutions that will bring these numbers down. The Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) Overdose Prevention Task Force (OPTF) was created with a vision to reduce overdose deaths around the country through osteopathic medical student action and advocacy.

Our focus is to create training and distribution programs for naloxone, advocate for effective Good Samaritan Laws in states where this is needed, and increase medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in the communities where access is limited.

Foundational to the mission of the OPTF is education of the general public and medical communities on harm reduction practices and addressing the stigma surrounding substance use. At this time, we have student leaders dispersed nationally over 40 campuses to achieve these goals. SOMA is proud to provide this collaborative opportunity to medical students seeking to act and help make a difference in the opioid crisis.

5 steps medical students can take to help address the opioid crisis:

1. Connect with Overdose Prevention Task Force COM leaders on campus.

  • Contact your SOMA chapter president for specific information on how to become involved in local chapter efforts.
  • You can also connect with the faculty champion for your SOMA chapter.

2. Contact local resources to develop partnerships and assist them with obtaining naloxone to distribute into communities. Local resources can include:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Local hospitals, clinics, and other health care services.
  • Harm reduction centers such as naloxone distribution organizations and needle exchange programs.
  • First responders such as EMS, fire departments and police departments.

3. Get training, and train others:

  • Create naloxone train-the-trainer programs.
  • Hold community training and education events through local organizations and schools.
  • Every medical student can get DATA 2000 Waiver Training and be able to prescribe MAT upon graduation.

4. Meet with lobbyists and local/state legislative staff and government leaders.

  • Urge them to support Good Samaritan Laws and legislation to increase access to care and treatment.

5. Conduct research.

  • Collect data on where naloxone is being distributed.
  • Track community rates of overdose deaths.
  • Collect details about MAT facilities in each state.
  • Understand local prisons’ approach and efficacy for opioid use disorder treatment, as they are a significant point of care for substance use.
  • Use Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to create a nationwide picture of the opioid crisis and treatment availability.

3 steps physicians can take to help address the opioid crisis

1. Lead/become a faculty champion:

  • If at a COM without a faculty champion, consider becoming one.
  • Connect with and guide osteopathic medical students.
  • Train students and community members on naloxone administration, harm reduction, best practices, and MAT.

2. Take the DATA 2000 Waiver training and utilize MAT:

  • Research has shown that there are significant gaps between treatment needed and capacity at the state and national level for opioid agonist medication-assisted treatment.
  • The White House and the Department of Health & Human Services identified improved access to MAT as a key priority for reducing harms associated with opioid use disorder in 2015.

3. Meet with lobbyists and local/state legislative staff and government leaders.

  • Urge them to support Good Samaritan Laws and legislation to increase access to care and treatment.

Community-based approach

This collaborative community-based approach for students to make an impact and save lives is what we envision for every osteopathic medical school in the country. We want to help prepare every student to enter the profession confident in their medical skills and public health knowledge, ready to battle the opioid overdose epidemic as a unified force. In the future, we hope to provide MAT training, and conduct research using state overdose and treatment statistics. To get involved, please email

About the authors: Edie Waskel, OMS IV, attends Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific and is SOMA’s community outreach director. She oversees SOMA’s OPTF. Giselle Irio, OMS III, attends Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine and is vice chair of the OPTF. Shaun Antonio, OMS III, attends Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine and is chair of the OPTF.


  1. John C. Licciardone, DO, MS, MBA, FACPM

    Thank you for your article raising awareness of the steps that medical students and physicians can take to help address the opioid crisis. Students, faculty, and physicians may also help in conducting research throughout all 48 contiguous states (step 5) by learning more about the PRECISION Pain Research Registry at, including its focus on safety issues relating to opioids.

  2. jenifer van deusen

    SOMA OTPF Members: Thank you for this important manifesto! It is vital that COMs contribute to the solutions to this public health crisis. UNE COM is doing its share through the support of a PCSS-U grant as are many other osteopathic and allopathic schools across the country. It would be great to meet up with you at AACOM. I am posting this on COPE’s Facebook page to send your message even further. Thank you for your leadership.

  3. Jason A Sneed, DO

    All of these suggestions are great, but there is one additional aspect that should be included in what Osteopathic Medical Students and Osteopathic Physicians can do amidst this crisis. That is to learn OMT and I mean really learn it and use it. Also learn how to prescribe home exercises. If you can help a patient out of pain by means that does not involve an opioid or any medication at all many of these cases can be prevented. I have seen many patients come off of the chronic opioid prescriptions through the use of OMT. Please remember this great tool that has been taught to each of you.

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