Orange County leaders seeking to stem the community’s opioid epidemic heard recently from Dr. Martin Klapheke, assistant dean of medical education, who has led the medical school’s efforts to train tomorrow’s physicians about the dangers of prescribing opioids for pain.

The Orange County Heroin Task Force Advisory Committee invited Dr. Klapheke to discuss the college’s new opioid and pain management curriculum. The task force includes community leaders from law enforcement, healthcare, education and addiction treatment who are struggling to deal with increasing overdoses and deaths from opioids.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 60 percent of drug-related deaths in the U.S. involve an opioid. In Florida, at least five people die from an opioid overdose every day. And increasingly, officials are seeing overdose deaths from combining heroin with fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid.

Most heroin addicts became addicted after misusing prescription opioids. Opioids include prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

Based on those statistics, the College of Medicine revised its curriculum about a year ago to give students more information on when and whether to prescribe opioids. Opioid education is now included in all four years of medical school training. Students learn the dangers of prescribing opioids for conditions like chronic pain and arthritis. They learn how to devise strategies to reduce the risk of addiction. Working with standardized patients – actors – students learn how to resuscitate someone who has overdosed and how to educate family members of addicted patients. They also learn about alternatives to painkillers such as biofeedback and exercise therapy. Dr. Klapheke has shared UCF’s curriculum with medical schools across the state and with medical school educators across the country.

“There’s some evidence that there’s been a decrease in the prescription of opioids in the United States,” Dr. Klapheke told the heroin panel. “However, the bad news is there’s been an increase in overdose deaths. We need to not only focus on the appropriate prescription of opioids, but also identifying individuals who become addicted and making sure they get into treatment, so that they don’t move from prescribed opioids to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.”

Orlando Police Deputy Chief Robert Anzueto said he was impressed at how UCF’s opioid curriculum is preparing future physicians.

“It was very interesting to see what the new medical students are going through,” Anzueto said. “It’s like, hands-on from day one. And that’s great to see, because we want to make sure that the future physicians and leaders of this world have great training behind them to combat this kind of issue – because this is going to be an issue for many, many decades, moving forward.”