Course description

More people die every year from opioid overdoses than gunshot wounds and car accidents, and the crisis appears to be worsening and rapidly changing. Making matters worse, understanding the crisis in real time is notoriously difficult, especially since most who overdose do not go to hospitals and death certificates are often unreliable. And while everyone agrees something must be done, what that something is leads us into heated debates over health care spending and harm reduction. While most medical research focuses on the biology of disease, this course takes a biosocial approach to unmask how social factors, economic insecurity, and the availability of massive amounts of pharmaceuticals have become an overdose crisis. We read social scientists, journalists, public health scholars, and first-hand accounts in order to understand the chronic emergencies (such as de-industrialization and despair) behind this acute crisis. By investigating the opioid epidemic in this way, students are encouraged to think boldly and creatively beyond the traditional boundaries of medicine: perhaps someone's best medicine is a housing voucher, or a testing strip to detect fentanyl. By the end of the class, students understand the social roots of the opioid epidemic and how solutions may be implemented.

Instructor

  • Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
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