Associate dean speaks on opioid crisis

John Singleton

On Tuesday night, head of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Bowling Green campus spoke at a Society for Lifelong Learning event about the opioid epidemic and the new school.

The event, called “An Evening with Dr. Cheever,” was hosted by the Society for Lifelong Learning. Dr. Todd Cheever came to Bowling Green in 1983 to attend WKU and begin his pre-med studies, before attending UK to acquire his master’s in medicine. He is now a psychiatrist in Lexington and will be appointed a leadership position as the associate dean of the new college in Bowling Green’s.

The UK medical school building is currently under construction and is slated to be finished during summer 2018. With Kentucky leading the country in rates for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions, officials hope a new four-year college will help close a critical shortage of physicians, Cheever said.

The UK College of Medicine Bowling Green campus will accept 30 students annually. It will be located in a multi-purpose building attached to a five-story parking garage located on The Medical Center’s campus.

The medical school will follow an identical curriculum taught at UK’s Lexington campus and use the same assessments. Faculty will have UK College of Medicine positions and teach in small groups through simulated patient experiences with lectures provided from the Lexington campus through educational technology, Cheever said.

Cheever also spoke about the current opioid epidemic.

“Last year, more Americans died of a drug overdose than those who died in combat in the Vietnam War,” Cheever said. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population, and 85 percent of the world’s opioid consumption, and 3 billion Americans become addicted to opioids every year. That is what’s happening.”

After the access and availability of the drug OxyContin in Kentucky decreased, it became easier and more accessible to use heroine and pain pills, Cheever said. According to recent research, there is no one risk factor for opioid abuse, and it has no target market. However, teenagers have used it most commonly within the past several years, Cheever said.

Cheever spoke of “pill parties,” where adolescents in particular will mix various prescription drugs and consume them. Cheever said this can be lethal.

Cheever said adults and parents should to lock up and hide pills in the house, so that children do not get within reach of the prescriptions.

Cheever was asked if there are any solutions to the opioid epidemic.

“This is when I always wish I had the magic answer, to which I would use to gain a Nobel Prize for Medicine, because I had solved opioid addiction in the United States,” Cheever said. “With my understanding after years of working with individuals struggling with fighting for their lives against this addiction, first and foremost, we need to do more with education and schools in terms of delivering the right information and getting the fact that this is extremely serious through children’s young minds.”

Reporter John Singleton can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].

Correction: The number ‘3 billion’ should be ‘3 million’. The Herald regrets the error.