Redefining Opioid Education

Free HMS online course serves as powerful educational tool for the opioid crisis 

Redefining Opioid Education


The numbers are staggering. More than 2.5 million adults in the U.S. are struggling with addiction to opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin. Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 33,000 deaths in 2015—nearly as many as traffic fatalities. And almost all were preventable.

“No one should be dying from an overdose, because we have things we can do in the setting of an overdose to save someone's life. We have treatment that we know reduces the death toll, and helps people get into long-term remission to lead meaningful lives,” said Sarah Wakeman, Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, in the welcome and introduction to Harvard Medical School’s new online course, “OpioidX: The Opioid Crisis in America.”

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Launched on March 27, OpioidX is one of the first free, comprehensive educational programs on the opioid epidemic designed for all audiences.

The course is part of a broad commitment by HMS to provide accessible, online learning resources for both lay and professional audiences around the world; such programs include HMX, which provides courses on fundamental scientific concepts for learners interested in or beginning careers in healthcare, and HMS Global Academy, which provides medical professionals with courses on a variety of topics, including opioid use disorder, for continuing medical education credit.

“OpioidX gives actionable health information to any individual who is interested in or struggling with opioid misuse or addiction, whether in their homes, workplaces or communities,” said Catherine Finn, deputy editor of Harvard Health Publications, which produced and published the course through HarvardX.

Actionable Information

OpioidX fills a gap in public opioid education and supports individual and community efforts to address opioid addiction across the U.S., course producers said. The course is designed to provide a well-rounded, evidence-based view of the opioid crisis and to challenge preconceptions about who can become addicted to opioids with the goal of reducing the stigma that exists around opioid addiction, treatment and recovery.

No one should be dying from an overdose, because we have things we can do in the setting of an overdose to save someone's life.  - Sarah Wakeman

Emphasis is placed on actionable knowledge, such as how learners can prevent an opioid overdose death and how they can get involved in their communities to help people gain access to life-saving medications for prevention and treatment. For example, learners are taught the signs of opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone, a medication which can halt an overdose in minutes.

The course features a narrative-focused, video-based curriculum led by a broad range of experts, including HMS addiction specialists and public health and policy experts, as well as perspectives from HMS-affiliated hospital pharmacists, law enforcement agents and individuals in recovery from opioid addiction. Discussion forums, moderated by HMS medical students, provide additional channels for learners to share personal insights and experiences with each other.

National Impact

At the Clinton Foundation’s sixth annual Health Matters Activation Summit on April 10, former president Bill Clinton will announce that OpioidX will serve a role in the foundation’s efforts to identify and implement strategies to create healthier communities, and address the opioid and prescription drug epidemic.

OpioidX is being leveraged to empower human resource professionals to address opioid addiction and dependency in the workplace. The goal is to provide tools, resources and evidence-based best practices to assist employees dealing with addiction.

“At the Clinton Foundation, we know that partnerships and community-driven solutions are the key to improving health across the country,” said Gillian Sealy, CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. “We believe that the work we’re doing with Harvard Health Publications is critical to helping people live their healthiest lives by addressing some of the country’s biggest health challenges, such as the current opioid and prescription drug abuse epidemic paralyzing so many communities around the U.S.”

OpioidX is also being used by Drug Free Duval in Northeast Florida to create a blueprint on how to provide comprehensive prevention, treatment and recovery services for that community. A major part of this initiative is the implementation of OpioidX in outreach programs.

“Education and training are a huge part of the solution to everything for us. Florida passed a law that allows pharmacists to sell naloxone without a prescription in 2016, but even some hospitals still don’t know about it,” said Susan Pitman, executive director of Drug Free Duval.

“It’s phenomenal to have a resource this powerful, and we are really excited to offer this tool for our community to use,” Pitman added. “We hope that by encouraging engagement through this course, we can teach life-saving lessons and, importantly, destigmatize opioid addiction, because one of the major reasons people don’t get help is the stigma.”

Professional Learning

OpioidX also includes a verified certificate program that can provide continuing education credits to professionals who work in human resources. The application process for continuing education credit approval through several additional professional organizations is currently underway.

For health care professionals working in opioid addiction and treatment, including physicians, nurses, physician assistants and other health care providers, the HMS Global Academy offers continuing medical education credits through a free, three-course program called the Opioid Use Disorder Education Program.

Developed by HMS with support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this program provides courses on understanding the nature of addiction, identifying and treating opioid use disorder, and implementing collaborative care approaches to manage opioid use disorder. Each class provides eight CME credits.

To learn more about the variety of online educational offerings from HMS, visit