Penn State

PSU nursing programs working toward curbing drug abuse

No one sets out to be addicted to painkillers or their street-sold cousin heroin.

The Obama administration announced measures Friday that hope to address the problems of overprescription that might lead to an addiction to legally obtained pills and illegally obtained street drugs.

Penn State wants its nurse practitioners to be part of the solution to that problem.

On Friday, the White House announced a list of nursing and pharmacy schools that were stepping up to change the way their students learned about the topic. Nurse practitioner students at 191 schools will be taking prescriber education to help identify ways to head off problems before they start. Meanwhile, 54 pharmacy programs will be teaching their students about lifesaving measures and how to educate people about the use of counter-measures such as naloxone, used for overdoses.

“Opiate use in the United States is a public health crisis,” said Paula Milone-Nuzzo, dean of Penn State’s College of Nursing. “We feel like our nurse practitioner students need to be prepared. We have a long history of preparing our students for the mental health challenges of abuse and addiction.”

Penn State is one of the larger nursing schools in the country. Milone-Nuzzo said she has about 3,000 nursing students across the university’s various campuses. Five of those campuses are home to nurse practitioner students, who are learning to be a kind of health care hybrid provider who can both care for patients like a nurse but also order tests, diagnose conditions and prescribe medication like a doctor.

Penn State is also the largest educational institution in Pennsylvania. It was joined on the list of nursing schools by both fellow state-related university Pitt, and Ivy League private school the University of Pennsylvania, ranked the No. 2 nursing program in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

“This is a huge, huge issue,” Milone-Nuzzo said.

And the problem, she said, has started with overprescribing of narcotics, something that has to be balanced with the very real needs of managing patients’ pain. She is glad to see the issue getting the attention she says it needs from the White House.

That national attention, she said, is what is important.

“We didn’t look at it from a Centre County specific perspective,” Milone-Nuzzo said.

After all, a lot of Penn State students come from other places, and many of them will leave to go care for patients somewhere else.

“This issue is not just about cities and not just about young adults,” she said. “It’s about everyone from young adults to the elderly.”

President Barack Obama also used the announcement as an opportunity to renew his call to Congress for $1.1 billion in funding to help people with “opioid use disorder” get help.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce