For obituary writers, business is brisk.
Since 2000, the rate of overdose deaths from prescription opioids and heroin nationwide has spiked 200 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not surprisingly, that number dovetails with a 140 percent jump in opioid prescriptions since the mid-1990s. Here in Massachusetts, doctors wrote more than 4.6 million scripts for opioid analgesics in 2014. For some, those scripts ultimately turned into death certificates.
In an effort to stem the crisis, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker last year reached out to the deans of the commonwealth’s four medical schools, including BU’s School of Medicine. The plan: train future physicians how to more effectively prevent prescription opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose fatalities. Working with the Massachusetts Medical Society and Monica Bharel (CAS’94, MED’94), the state’s public health commissioner, core competencies were developed.
At BU, the effort is being overseen by Daniel Alford (SPH’86, MED’92), an associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for continuing medical education. The School of Medicine’s Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) is centered around prevention of substance misuse, alternative pain treatments, identifying patients who are high-risk for opioid misuse, and managing addiction as a chronic brain disease.
“On a scale of zero to ten, the opioid morbidity and mortality crisis is a ten,” Alford says. “Ultimately, I believe education is the answer. This new, focused curriculum gives me hope that we’re moving in the right direction. Better education will lead to more physicians who will make competent decisions based on their patients’ specific needs, and that can help relieve suffering and save lives.”