Medical schools step up education on opioids

Pharmacy medication

Medical schools across the country are stepping up their efforts to educate future doctors about opioid painkillers and how to better treat patients’ pain, according to an Associated Press report.

The medical schools are responding to the country’s opioid epidemic which has resulted in rising overdose deaths, and has been blamed in part on doctors’ overprescribing painkillers because many have been poorly trained in how to manage pain. Studies have found that medical students in the U.S. spend far less time learning to treat pain than students in other countries and even U.S. veterinary students, according to the report.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, for instance, ran a daylong boot camp in May designed to help students decide when to prescribe opioids. The bootcamp included interactions between actors, who played the part of patients, and medical students who had to decide whether to write a prescription for the requested painkillers. The idea is to put students though the kind of cases they’ll face in practice and help them ask the right questions to determine if a patient has an addiction problem.

"There's a lot at stake here. We have a public health epidemic, and it's not getting better, and the healthcare profession is part of the problem," Michele Pugnaire, M.D., the medical school's senior associate dean for educational affairs, told the Associated Press.

At Harvard Medical School, students agreed with critics who say medical schools aren’t doing enough to prepare doctors to reverse the opioid crisis. Unsatisfied with the medical school's curriculum, the students earlier this year organized their own training sessions on how to treat opioid addiction.

Other actions cited by the AP include:

  • A pledge by more than 60 U.S. medical schools to teach new federal guidelines for prescribing opioids
  • Development of uniform curriculum on opioids and addiction by Massachusetts’ four medical schools
  • Use of federal grants to teach a standardized interviewing method to help screen patients for drug abuse, taking place at dozens of schools including Brown and Columbia
  • Training on alternative ways to treat pain such as relaxation therapy and breathing exercises, such as those being taught at Boston University

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