The Opioid Crisis: How Did We Get Here and What Are We Doing to Solve It?

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 08, 2019 - July 19, 20197/08 - 7/19M-F 12:15P-3:05POpenRyan Carpenter
Lidia Meshesha

Course Description

If you have tuned into the news lately, there is a good chance that you have heard a lot about the opioid crisis. And for good reason. Opioid misuse is a significant public health threat, and people are dying every day as a result of opioid-related overdose. However, at the same time, opioids remain a frequently prescribed option for the treatment of pain, and millions of people take them on doctor’s orders everyday.

The opioid crisis has many wondering: Why are so many people becoming addicted to opioids? Why is opioid overdose on the rise? How can we best help individuals dealing with opioid addiction? How do we, as a country, overcome the crisis? This is a confusing and concerning topic, one that generates more questions than answers.

This course aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the past, present, and future of the opioid crisis. Through this lens, the course will provide understanding of substance use and addiction more generally. We will explore the cycle of addiction, how it progresses over time, and its impact on the individual, their friends and family, and society as a whole. We will also explore the process of recovery from addiction, discussing treatment options and factors that both contribute to and interfere with successful outcomes. By examining the crisis from multiple perspectives (psychological, sociological, historical, biological), you will leave this course with a better understanding of how the opioid crisis came to be and what is being done to solve it.

This course will explore factors that have contributed to the rise of the opioid crisis, its current impact on individuals and society, and implications for the future. First, the course will explore the historical context of the crisis, focusing on how the development of new opioids, the emphasis on the treatment of pain, and demographic changes over time have influenced both the crisis itself and its perception in media and culture. Second, we will examine the physiological effects of opioids on the brain and body to better understand the addictive potential of opioids, and their similarities and differences from other drugs. Third, the course will focus on recent large-scale efforts to address the opioid crisis, treatment options for those suffering from its impact, and barriers to positive change. Overall, this course is meant to provide a comprehensive understanding of the crisis and engage students in critical thinking about the problem as a whole. Further, the course is designed to expose students to the process of psychological research through generating and critically examining potential means of addressing a significant public health problem.

As part of the course, students will have assigned readings on opioids and the opioid crisis from both scholarly (i.e., research articles) and popular (e.g., newspaper articles) sources and participate in class discussions about various topics related to addiction. The primary project for the course will be for students to develop their own proposal of a psychological study relevant to addressing the opioid crisis. This project will be broken up into stages over the two weeks of the course and will involve group and individual activities. At the end of the course, students will submit a paper detailing this project and its relation to the opioid crisis and give a brief presentation to the class. Throughout this course, students will learn foundational principles of addiction psychology broadly as well as distinctions specific to opioid addiction. Content learned from this course will also be applicable to other fields of study, including public health, medicine, and public policy. As such, cross-listings in Medical & Health Studies and Neuroscience may be appropriate.

Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meshesha both have established research backgrounds in substance use research and, specifically, opioid use research. They have also worked clinically with many patients dealing with problems related to opioids and other substances.

1. Develop an understanding of the historical roots of the opioid crisis and how opioid use has progressed and changed over the past 50 years.
2. Gain knowledge on how the opioid crisis has affected different populations and age groups in the U.S.
3. Understand evidence-based treatment options for opioid and other substance use disorders, and current national prevention and intervention efforts to stem the tide of the opioid crisis.
4. Build an understanding of substance use disorder broadly and how substance use affects society and individuals.
5. Develop college level skills in critical thinking, writing, and the scientific process.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPC0903
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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