Opioid use disorders are widespread, commonly occurring, and have a serious impact on individuals, families, and communities. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates 10.3 million people misused opioids in 2018, 2 million of whom met opioid use disorder criteria. When adequately trained, social workers play a pivotal role in treating populations impacted by opioid use through the provision of services including psychoeducation, motivational interviewing, and treatment planning.
Concurrently, workforce projections indicate a growing shortage of behavioral health professionals qualified to work with populations impacted by opioid use. The shortage of social workers is estimated to reach nearly 17,000 by 2025. It is imperative to increase the number of social workers graduating with competencies necessary to provide evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery services for opioid use.
Presently, social work programs are not equipped to meet projected workforce needs; nationally, only 14.3% of accredited MSW programs offer a specialization related to any type of substance use. Emerging evidence suggests opioid overdose education effectively improves knowledge and attitudes among other health professions; however, less information exists on the efficacy of such training among social work students. Schools of social work must develop and evaluate curricular components related to opioid use to adequately prepare graduates.
Our training was supported by a HRSA grant to train graduate-level social work students in evidence-based opioid treatment, with the goal of enhancing competencies in the provision of opioid use prevention, treatment, and recovery services.
Opioid overdose training was part of a day-long seminar on substance use. Content included acute effects of opioids, withdrawal symptoms, risk factors, signs of overdose, naloxone training, and harm reduction principles. Students were assessed using a pre-post survey design. The sample included advanced-year MSW students (N=33) and was predominantly White (67%) and female (97%). Two measures were administered: 1) Opioid Overdose Attitudes Scale (OOAS) to assess self-reported attitudes regarding opioid overdose prevention and management, and 2) Opioid Overdose Knowledge Scale (OOKS) to assess knowledge related to opioid overdose management. To evaluate students’ attitudes and knowledge we compared overall and subscale means pre- and post-training via paired samples t-tests.
Results indicated statistically significant improvements in overall OOAS scores (p<.001) from pre- to post-training. Results also indicated statistically significant improvements in the competence (p<.001) and concerns subscales (p<.001). However, there was no statistically significant change in the readiness subscale (p=.177). Likewise, results indicated statistically significant improvements in overall OOKS scores (p<.001) from pre- to post-training. Results indicated statistically significant improvements in all four subscales: risks (p<.001), signs (p<.001), action (p<.001), and naloxone use (p<.001).
The training was successful in providing students with an effective knowledge base of opioid overdose management and in positively shifting attitudes related to managing an overdose. Students developed the knowledge and attitudes necessary to provide effective psychoeducation to their clients about opioid overdose management. Further research may explore training components necessary to improve students’ readiness to intervene in an overdose.