Exploring social work student education: The effect of a harm reduction curriculum on student knowledge and attitudes regarding opioid use disorders

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Substance Abuse

Publication Date


Date Added



Background: This study evaluates the degree to which a harm reduction intervention course module impacted Master of Social Work (MSW) students’ knowledge and attitudes towards addressing opioid use disorder issues and clients. Methods: Using a mixed-methods approach, data from 124 MSW students were collected between 2011 and 2015. Students completed a 3-hour course module that focused on harm reduction philosophy and interventions specifically for opioid use disorders. Students completed pre- and posttest of the Harm Reduction Attitude Scale. Students were also engaged in focus groups to gain a better understanding of how and if their knowledge and attitudes changed. Results: Overall, attitudes towards harm reduction approaches for opioid use disorder shifted favorably following the course module. Paired t-test results show a statistically significant difference in the mean scores for pretest attitudes (M = 2.64, SD = 0.16) and posttest attitudes (M = 2.86, SD = 0.12) among social work students. This trend remained consistent despite treatment orientation and having a family history of substance use. Conclusion: Given the increased capacity for social work students to encounter clients with opioid use disorders, it is important to ensure that students are provided with relevant and accurate information related to client-centered approaches such as the harm reduction model to address opioid use disorders. Moreover, given the dearth of social work programs that have and required substance use disorder courses, it is imperative for schools of social work to ensure that students are provided with more than practical information, which is often gained during field placement.




Social Work

Comments/Extra Notes

Additional author: Cudjoe, Tracy