Solving the Opioid Crisis: What are Opioids


The University of Michigan is teaming up with Coursera to create Teach-Outs which are week-long MOOC lecture series which address problems currently faced in society today. Following will be notes for The Opioid Crisis.

michael_smith113This post is notes from an interview with Mike Smith, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy and Clinical Pharmacist in Pain and Palliative Care at Michigan Medicine.


An opioid is a class of drug that binds an opioid receptor. Unlike pain medications of other classes, opioids can easily lead to euphoria, particularly in higher doses. Years after doctors started prescribing opioids, scientists found that opioids only work on a certain class of pain; therefore, it had been over- and mis-prescribed for years. The abundance of opioids in the community that resulted from this over-prescription led to increased recreational use and addiction. Dr. Smith feels that the best way to bring the opioid crisis to a halt is to minimize the number of pills that are being prescribed. A good second step to halting the crisis would be to identify opioid misuse earlier in patients.

The interview ends with this discussion question: What kinds of innovative steps could be taken to collect surplus opioids in communities like yours?

I admit that I know little about what steps have already been taken to encourage people to properly dispose of opioids; however, I think a government- (or insurance-) funded program where people are partially reimbursed for returning certain prescriptions to their pharmacies when they don’t need the drugs anymore would be beneficial. The problem is that many tax-payers may not approve of such a use of their money and the insurance companies would also object if they were forced by federal regulation to fund such a program.

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