Opioid program premieres at Clarion

Edward McFadden – Staff Writer

CLARION, Pa.- Clarion University has introduced certification for Opioid Treatment Specialist this semester. A product of the Clarion faculty’s research and work, the certification educates students on the nature and history of opioid and opiate drugs as well as treatment and prevention techniques for addiction or abuse. The introduction of the certification comes amid a growing crisis of opioid abuse and associated deaths nationwide. Pennsylvania has been feeling the effects keenly.

The 12-credit certificate launched as a group of four online classes; three rehabilitation science and one nursing. The  certificate may be earned in as little as one academic year, with each course offered in a seven-week format. However, strict adherence to this schedule is not required.

Enrollment in the certification program is available to students of any major with an interest in the topic, as well as graduate students or non-students. Clarion’s website specifically names nursing and rehabilitation science undergraduates as students  who would benefit from becoming certified.

Clarion’s Dr. Ray Feroz described the program’s curriculum as an exhaustive approach to the topic of opioid addiction, from the study of the opium plant and basics of opioid drug chemistry to research-backed techniques of prevention and recovery from abuse. According to Feroz, there is a lot to be learned from the history of opioid abuse, which dates back even to ancient Samaria.

Opioid Treatment Specialist Certification has little precedent at Clarion University or otherwise. A group of Clarion faculty members with experience in psychology, addiction science and other related fields worked through the summer to develop the program, culminating in a meeting in Harrisburg with former university President Dr. Karen Whitney and Dr. Feroz joining Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in the state capital for the announcement of the program July 12. Wolf has taken a firm stance on the task of fighting the opioid crisis during his two terms as governor, going so far as to call it his administration’s “top priority.” The new certification caught the governor’s attention.

Contributed Photo/ the Clarion Call
Clarion APSCUF President and Rehab Science Professor speaks.

As per a recent intelligence report released by the Drug Enforcement Agency, fatalities attributed to drug overdose rose 23.4 percent from 2014 to 2015 for a total of 3,383 deaths per year; a number that most likely has risen since. In 2016, Wolf made a jarring public statement that, “every day, we lose  10 Pennsylvanians to the disease of opioid addiction.” On a national level, Pennsylvania isn’t faring much better. It was ranked fourth in the Center for Disease Control’s list of states by overdose death prevalence.

Heroin specifically appeared present for 55% of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, not limited to only opioid drugs. However, it’s reported that four out of every five Pennsylvanians struggling with addiction developed tolerance while on habit-forming prescription painkillers  with OxyContin and Vicodin the two biggest culprits. A common practice was to obtain painkillers from different pharmacies to get more than one’s recommended dosage, however, legislation passed as recently as June of this year has since restricted this practice by allowing pharmacies to share customer data. The program has been called the Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PAPDMP).

In the month’s following Clarion’s announcement of the certification, the opioid crisis was featured in headlines nationally when President Donald Trump declared the epidemic a National Emergency, a status usually reserved for short-term national disasters such as fires or floods, Vox reports. It is expected that this status will increase funding in the fight against opioid addiction both nationally, and on a state level.

Feroz says the certification is Clarion’s contribution to an ongoing fight. “My hope for [students completing the certificate] is go on to advocate for individuals who need individual help but also to be effective social advocates and political advocates for improved treatment for the disease. That’s through community action, political action, and it is  things that families and communities can do,” Feroz said.

“I think there’s reason to be hopeful,” he added.

Feroz also reported that the program is experiencing healthy enrollment, with three 25-student sections being filled so far.

Pennsylvania residents can complete the certificate for $4,597.20, about $1,150 per course. Non-residents pay $5,197.20

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