Members of the Class of 2023 take part in a naloxone (Narcan) training program presented by the Erie County Department of Health.

1st-Years Can Save Lives Thanks to Narcan Training

Published September 10, 2019

The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences continues to be at the forefront in combating the opioid overdose crisis.

“The presenter was very charismatic and passionate about the topic. She said ‘this is a major issue. This is how we need to deal with it. It’s not going to be pretty, but this is the reality.’”
Daniel Greenberg
First-year medical student

Medical Students Have Role in Solving Crisis

Starting this year, first-year students at the Jacobs School are training in opioid overdose recognition and the use of naloxone (Narcan) for reversal. That means 180 more people in Western New York are now trained in this life-saving skill.

Tildabeth Doscher, MD, clinical assistant professor of family medicine; Lisa Jane Jacobsen, MD, associate dean of medical curriculum and clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology; and Alison M. Vargovich, PhD, clinical assistant professor of medicine, all attended the Association of American Medical Colleges’ task force meeting on integrating opioid use training in medical school.

Staff from the Erie County Department of Health provided naloxone training to the Class of 2023 on Aug. 13 at the Sol Messinger, MD ’57 Active Learning Center. Narcan Nasal Spray kits were made available to all students attending the training.

“We knew we had to do something, so we made the time,” said Alan J. Lesse, MD, senior associate dean for medical curriculum and associate professor of medicine, about the training event Jacobs School officials began planning at the beginning of the summer. “This year, it was in the afternoon as part of our extra time. In the future, it will be integrated into the curriculum.”

Dept. of Health Official Gives Presentation

Cheryll Moore, medical care administrator for the Erie County Department of Health and the driving force behind the county’s naloxone training program, gave a powerful presentation to the class.

“Addiction is a disease. Our biggest fight is the stigma,” Moore said. “Addiction is very treatable, but we can’t treat people that are dead. And that’s really the message I try to get through to physicians in particular. They’ve (patients) got to be alive.”

Moore has been involved in fighting opioid overdoses since 2013. Since that time, she and her staff have compiled extensive data on the problem, which she shared with the class.

Training Deals With ‘Real Life’ Situations

First-year medical student Erika Zheng examines contents in the Narcan Nasal Spray kit.

“I don’t think a lot of people realized how big of an issue this is. She (Moore) brought a lot of data into the discussion and made it more real,” said Jocelyn Neveu, a first-year student in the medical education program from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Neveu said the most important thing she learned from the training is “how to use it in real life if you ever come across this situation.”

“I think there are a lot of things you don’t really think about, like putting someone on their back and in the recovery position,” Neveu said.

“The presenter was passionate,” said Daniel Greenberg, a first-year medical student from Queens, a borough of New York City. “She said ‘this is a major issue. This is how we need to deal with it. It’s not going to be pretty, but this is the reality.’”

Vigilance Leads to Decline in Overdose Deaths

While opioid overdose deaths are still going up in many parts of the country, the efforts of all those involved in fighting the problem in Western New York are making a big difference.

Opioid-related deaths peaked in Erie County in 2016 with 301 reported deaths. The number of opioid-related deaths decreased to 251 in 2017 and to 191 in 2018. There has been an even sharper decline this year with 49 confirmed opioid-related deaths in the first seven months of 2019 and 41 others still pending the results of toxicology reports.

“We’re way ahead of the curve. We’re the national model for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance,” Moore said.

“Our rates are going down significantly. Patients can be connected to opioid use disorder therapy directly from the emergency room,” Lesse said. “They’ll be treated in the emergency room and given a direct link to therapy, which doesn’t happen anywhere else in the country.”