Stephanie and Jessica

Valencia student Jessica Loucks with her older sister, Stephanie Rex, who died in 2016 from an opioid addiction.  

In the wake of the Oct. 26 public health emergency announcement by the Trump administration, UCF's College of Medicine continues to have an interest educating medical students on the opioid crisis, relating the epidemic as a collective issue.

Dr. Martin Klapheke, the assistant dean for Medical Education at the UCF College of Medicine, said public responses from media reports and medical journals only reinvigorates the medical students’ need to get involved with the crisis.

“[The students] read it in the papers; they see it in the medical journals, so they’re eager and hungry to get this information,” Klapheke said. 

Capt. Angelo L. Nieves of the Orange County Sheriff's Office said the office received 855 calls regarding multiple overdoses this year, but an “overwhelming number of these calls would involve opioids.”

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, from 2016 to 2017, more than 60,000 people died from opioid overdoses, from medications like oxycodone and combinations of heroin and the synthetic drug fentanyl.

Valencia student Jessica Loucks, whose sister died from a heroin overdose in July 2016, said her sister’s opioid addiction followed an addiction to oxycodone, which was originally intended to relieve her pain from back surgery.

Ultimately, it led her to her heroin use that Loucks believes may have been laced with the deadly fentanyl that is “killing everyone." According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is "a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent."

The 25-year-old zoology major said although she is unaware if the combination caused her sister's death, she said that addiction begins because people are being over-prescribed pain medication. But, even if this access is limited, she said substance abuse issues will not stop. 

“It's something that you can’t really stop, and it really is the sad part,” Loucks said. “You can’t stop it.”

Klapheke and other officials from the UCF College of Medicine have created modules that are meant to provide an interactive educational experience for students to learn about overdose resuscitation based on up-to-date guidelines from the CDC, American Heart Association and the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration.

Educators are also teaching students to instruct patients' families about life-saving antidotes, like naloxone that can be given to substance abusers who aren't initially able to seek medical treatment.  

Klapheke said he believes UCF’s efforts and a curriculum partnership with eight other Florida medical schools will further make a shared impact to combat the epidemic, but solving the overall crisis will not stop if the only option is to limit the number of prescriptions available. 

“You have to not only decrease the amount that is being prescribed, but those folks that have become addicted -- you’ve got to get them into treatment, evidence-based treatment, because they’re still dying,” Klapheke said.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office has taken on the crisis locally, training deputies about how to help people experiencing an overdose and how to utilize naloxone, according to Nieves.

Loucks said she is willing to share her personal experience and speak with anyone with an addiction to offer some encouragement.

“If somebody has a problem, they need to go talk to somebody,” Loucks said. “If I don’t know you and you feel like you’re going to relapse on something, come talk to me.”

Klapheke said people with substance abuse issues face a stigma by society, and if the death toll was equal to the number of people who died from another public health crisis, there would be direr calls for help. 

“If you had this many people dying from, say Ebola, the nation would be up in arms demanding a huge intervention to stop this epidemic,” Klapheke said.

Klapheke said he hoped the federal government would have opened more access to funding, but it is not only the job of the government to help, but the duty of others, like future doctors, to stop the crisis.

In addition to the current curriculum provided, the assistant dean said UCF’s medical students will continue to do their part.

The curriculum next year will utilize actors meant to test students with real-life clinical scenarios like opioid resuscitation so they can put what they have learned in the modules to use. 

“It’s all these different parts of the puzzle that need to work together,” Klapheke said.

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