Medical Schools Change Policy On Opioid Prescription

As the U.S. drug epidemic has made itself known through rampant addiction amongst Americans, the medical community has increased their efforts substantially to address the problem. As of 2014, medical schools have begun expanding their training to help future doctors fight opioid abuse. Prior to the twenty-first-century addiction epidemic, doctors were only required to study a minimal amount of addiction-related materials to earn their degrees. Now, that is changing.

Now, students are studying far more into this subject and it could not have come sooner. New training programs, practice models, and textbooks positioned into multiple schools across the nation are teaching students to prescribe opioid painkillers and other addictive medicines only as a last resort. Schools are also treating students how to evaluate patients for signs of drug abuse to ensure that doctors can see the relevant signs before they start prescribing drugs to the patient in front of them.

The only problem is, even with medical schools taking prescription drug addiction more seriously and training their students with that in mind, it will take years before those students are able to really apply what they learned in the field. In fact, it will take decades before opioid-educated doctors form the majority of total doctors practicing in the U.S.

Medical Reform to Curb Opioid Diversion

As opioid addiction tears families apart and claims more lives than all other drug addictions combined, American medical schools have finally agreed to reform the way they educate doctors. The next generation of doctors will know better on how to handle opioids. The opioid epidemic more or less blindsided the current doctors of today, but that will change in the future.

This change has been a long time coming. Opinion leaders, governing officials, and entire communities have petitioned medical schools to change their agenda to incorporate addiction training. In the last few years, medical schools finally started to really listen.

Recent studies by the CDC, FDA, NIDA, and DEA have found that many doctors prescribe opioid painkillers far too often and for situations that do not fully require them. Medical schools now see the danger in this and are therefore determined to make the “new generation” of doctors more equipped to approach the ongoing opioid epidemic.

One medical school, the University of Massachusetts, hired actors to role-play patient/prescribing scenarios with medical students. This was done to help teach them real and legitimate scenarios requiring a need for prescribing opioids as compared to scenarios that require some other approach. Other schools are using similar simulations to train students when to recognize a “patient” who is doctor shopping. Other simulations are done to teach doctors when a patient needs a high dose of opioids and when an over the counter medicine would be just as sufficient.

The “Massachusetts Model” Mimicked in Other States

Opioids were the result of nearly twenty-thousand overdose deaths in 2014. that number increased by fifty percent to well over thirty-thousand by the end of 2016. The year 2000 saw barely over four-thousand opioid deaths. This is obviously a true epidemic.

To address the problem, medical schools in Massachusetts are creating a state-wide curriculum for all schools to follow for training Massachusetts doctors on how to properly approach this problem. This is seen as a saving grace because the precedent set by Massachusetts doctors will hopefully be picked up and followed in other states too.

Most medical schools defend their brethren in current medical practice, citing that they were told in the late 90s and early 2000s to treat pain no matter what. Pain rose up the list of priorities nationwide, and doctors did what they could to help their patients. No one knew or predicted that it would create an opiate epidemic with over ten million addicted as a result.

Dozens of schools are now doing their best to follow along with what Mass. has done to create change in their schools. In fact, government grants in some states have paid for new programs to be initiated in schools across the nation so that medical programs regarding opioids can be taught to students.

The two areas that student doctors are being trained on the most are:

  • Detecting patients who may be unethically seeking out opioids. Making sure that opioids do not fall into the hands of those who would abuse them.
  • Knowing how to prescribe opioids better to patients who actually do need them. Knowing how to detect pain in people. Knowing how to measure pain and correctly determine the degree of a person’s suffering and the physiological causes of that pain. This is key in knowing how much and what kind of opioids to prescribe to patients.

The drug problem is far from being under control. Even with the changes in medical schools, it will be years before those changes in the schools manifest to changes in the hands-on practice of medicine. The changes occurring in medical schools are phenomenal because it is a long-term investment for a better future. However, we still need to rapidly address some of the more serious, imminent concerns regarding opioids.

Sources:

https://hms.harvard.edu/departments/hms/spotlight-archive/combating-crisis

https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2016/08/22/86457834/

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/prescribing/guideline.html

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