UI medical students to train in addiction medicine through federal grant

University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine students can soon enroll in addiction medicine courses to prescribe buprenorphine and minimize the stigma of substance use.


Grace Kreber

University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics staff physician Dr. Joshua Radke poses for a portrait outside of the University of Iowa Hospital on Jan. 17, 2022.

Simone Garza, News Reporter

Students enrolled in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine’s medical and physician’s assistant programs will soon be able to learn more about addiction medicine.

Addiction courses are intended to allow UI medical students to authorize the use of buprenorphine, a drug that helps treat opioid use disorder and chronic pain, and lessen stigma around drug use.

The UI’s Carver College of Medicine recently received a $45,000 grant awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help expand the student training program.

Mitchell Hooyer, an emergency medicine resident at the University of Michigan and a recent UI graduate, said he’s proud of the UI for establishing the program in a short amount of time.

Hooyer said about 84 percent of his class signed a student-led petition in November 2020 to require the training.

“We had two requests from the administration of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, saying that we wanted them to integrate waiver eligibility requirements into the curricula for us, and then, we wanted them to maintain organized records of these waivers,” he said.

Andrea Weber, assistant director of the UI Addiction Medicine program, said students will learn to define a substance use disorder as when substance use becomes a priority with associated complications.

“It starts to cause a lot of problems or interference for them, and their life is starting to suffer for it,” she said.

Weber, who is also a UI clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, said the most common demographic with substance use disorder in Iowa is predominately white individuals in their early 30s to 50s.

“Many people presenting for addiction care are struggling in many ways, such as with undertreated physical and mental health, underemployed, housing insecure, and involvement in various types of policing, whether it’s probation, parole, child welfare services,” she said.

Weber said in her area of study, COVID-19 impacted drug-related overdose deaths involving many different substances, not just opioids.

“It was also things like stimulants such as methamphetamine, higher rates of alcohol use, and higher rates of alcohol use disorder,” she said.

Telehealth appointments have allowed patients to safely engage with their physicians during the pandemic, Weber said, and addiction medicine is no different.

“People felt like their care was not compromised transitioning from in-person to telehealth,” Weber said.

She said one of the proposed goals of the grants was instituting a curriculum that provides these health care workers with enough background to expand expertise in addiction medicine.

Joshua Radke, UIHC emergency-medicine physician and clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the UI Carver College of Medicine, said laws regulating buprenorphine distribution can make it more difficult for physicians to administer the treatment.

Radke said the buprenorphine waiver is a new law in addition to the Harrison Narcotic Act, which bars physicians from distributing opioids to people with opioid use disorder without a waiver.

“This law was established in the early 1900s, and essentially says opioid treatment cannot be served with another opioid,” he said. “This process allows physicians to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder, but they have to get waivers. The waiver just adds more stigma to drug use and makes it harder for patients to get access to buprenorphine.”