Decreasing Stigma Toward People Who Inject Drugs: Harm Reduction Training for First-Year Medical Students

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

Academic Medicine


Problem Stigma in health care toward people who inject drugs (PWID) is a well-described, significant barrier to quality care, resulting in poor health outcomes. Harm reduction offers a person-centered counter-framework for minimizing harm for people who use drugs. Despite the evidence in support of harm reduction, medical students typically receive minimal training on harm reduction and the care of PWID. Approach To fill this gap, medical students at the University of California, Los Angeles organized around the principles of harm reduction to improve the medical school curriculum related to PWID. Students screened lectures for stigmatizing language and collaborated with faculty to improve lecture materials. They partnered with a community organizer and hosted a mandatory 1-hour lecture and 30-minute discussion introducing the principles of harm reduction within an overdose prevention, recognition, and response training for first-year medical students during medical school orientation in August 2022. An anonymous online pretest and posttest survey, assessing student attitudes toward PWID, was used to evaluate the effects of the training. Outcomes A total of 156 students completed the pretest survey, and 107 students completed the pretest and posttest survey (68.5% response rate). The overall posttest mean stigma score was 1.8 (standard deviation [SD] = 0.5) and was significantly lower than the pretest mean of 2.1 (SD = 0.7; P <.0001), indicating a reduction in stigma among medical student attitudes after the course. There was statistically significant improvement in attitudes for 7 of 13 component measures. Next Steps This analysis demonstrated that the mandatory class has the capacity to improve medical student attitudes toward PWID. The authors plan to further evaluate the program's effectiveness through measuring and reporting outcomes for future student cohorts. The authors are working with curriculum directors to further incorporate harm reduction principles into other lectures and problem-based learning exercises.

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