Drug Abuse

Statement from MMS President on Passage of Question 4

Posted in Drug Abuse, Health Policy, Public Health on November 9th, 2016 by MMS Communications – 1 Comment

“It is disappointing that the commercial interests of marijuana have won out over the health and safety of citizens in the Commonwealth.  Physicians will continue their advocacy to warn citizens about the dangers of recreational marijuana and pledge to work with state officials to ensure that public health oversight, protections for teens and adolescents, and provisions for education, treatment and recovery are included as the law is implemented.”

James S. Gessner, M.D.
President, Massachusetts Medical Society
November 8, 2016

MMS Responds to Column on Question 4

Posted in Drug Abuse, Health, Health Policy, Public Health on November 3rd, 2016 by MMS Communications – Comments Off on MMS Responds to Column on Question 4

In a column entitled Countering the anti-pot hysterics with a ‘yes’ on Question 4 published October 28 online in The Boston Globe, WGBH’s Margery Eagan took the opponents of recreational marijuana to task, labeling them as “hysterics” who are engaged in “reefer madness.”

In the column, she accuses the MMS of “shameful” behavior in its opposition to marijuana (both medical in 2012 and recreational in 2016).recreationalmarijuana_ballotquestion_image_990x450

MMS responded to the column October 31 in a letter to the editor from MMS President James S. Gessner, M.D. As of this posting, the letter has not appeared, so we publish it here for our members to read.

Marjorie Eagan may believe that opposing marijuana is “shameful” behavior by physicians, but her willingness to ignore the public health effects of legalization and discount the threat to children in favor of having a “really fun time” is simply irresponsible. (Countering the anti-pot hysterics with a ‘yes’ on Question 4, Oct. 28). Marijuana is not the harmless substance she and the proponents of Question 4 claim it to be. 

Today’s marijuana has four times the amount of the mind-altering THC substance it had in years past, and its use can lead to addiction, impair cognition, risk pregnancy, and damage the developing brains of adolescents.  Those are the facts, not reefer madness hysteria. Question 4 also offers no public health oversight and provides no resources for prevention, education, or treatment.  It represents bad policy, and physicians take pride in advocating for public health over the ready access to a substance that can cause harm.

MMS and 11 physician specialty societies in Massachusetts have stated their strong opposition to Question 4 for a host of reasons. We urge voters to visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse and MMS websites for information on recreational marijuana and watch the October 30th CBS 60 Minutes report on the effects of recreational marijuana in Colorado. All three indicate that marijuana is not the harmless substance many people think it is.

 

Update: Opioid Education Surpasses 20,000 Courses

Posted in Board of Medicine, Drug Abuse, opioids on October 7th, 2016 by MMS Communications – Comments Off on Update: Opioid Education Surpasses 20,000 Courses

RXMonitoringOne of the major efforts MMS has engaged in to address the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth has been prescriber education.  Our Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication Guidelines, developed by the MMS Task Force on Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication and issued in May of 2015, laid the groundwork in providing guidance to physicians in prescribing opioids to patients.  Those guidelines have been adopted by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and incorporated into its comprehensive advisory to physicians on prescribing issues and practices.

Another major contribution by MMS in addressing the epidemic has been the offer of free continuing medical education courses in opioids and pain management for all prescribers. That effort also began in May of last year. A total of 18 courses and modules are available.

A previous blog post in August has discussed how this activity is having a positive impact, helping to reduce opioid prescribing rates across the Commonwealth.  Three separate studies, released in June, July, and August, have catalogued a decline in prescribing rates.

MMS today can report that since the offer of free courses began on May 26, 2015, the number of courses taken has surpassed 20,000.  As of October 7, a total of 20,249 courses have been taken by 7,084 individuals.

MMS Prescriber Education: 17,063 courses, 5,905 individuals

Posted in Department of Public Health, Drug Abuse, opioids on August 5th, 2016 by MMS Communications – 1 Comment

MMS has engaged in many efforts to address the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth, from creating prescribing guidelines to public information campaigns for patients.  One of the major contributions of the Society – and one of the critical steps in alleviating the crisis as MMS President James S. Gessner, M.D. has noted — has been prescriber education.

MMS began offering free continuing medical education courses in opioids and pain management to all RXMonitoringprescribers beginning in May of last year, and demand for the courses has been high.

Over the 14-month period from May 26, 2015, when the free courses were first offered, through August 1, 2016, a total of 17,063 courses have been completed by 5,905 individuals. Currently, 18 courses are offered.

The courses appear to be having a positive impact, as multiple studies show that opioid prescribing has declined significantly in the state.

A study by athenahealth showed that the number of patients in Massachusetts who were prescribed opioids between the first and second quarter of 2016 dropped 14 percent, compared to an 8 percent decline for the rest of the nation.  Another study, released in June by the Cambridge-based Workers Compensation Research Institute, recorded decreases in the amount of opioids prescribed per worker’s compensations claims in the Commonwealth as well as many other states.

Finally, a Massachusetts Department of Public Health report, issued on August 3, noted that data from the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring program showed that the total number of opioid Schedule II prescriptions and the number of individuals receiving Schedule II prescriptions were both at their lowest levels since the first quarter of 2015.  DPH said that the number of individuals who received one or more prescriptions for opioids dropped 16 percent from the first quarter of 2015 to the second quarter of 2016.

Despite the decline in prescription medications, deaths from opioid overdoses continue to rise, fueled by the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.  DPH reported that 66 percent of confirmed opioid-related overdoses deaths so far in 2016 involved fentanyl, an increase over  2015, when the rate was 57 percent.

The President’s Podium: A Step Forward in the Opioid Battle

Posted in Department of Public Health, Drug Abuse, opioids, Public Health on July 22nd, 2016 by MMS Communications – 1 Comment

by James S. Gessner, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

Congress has helped Massachusetts and the nation take another step forward in the battle against prescription drug abuse. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bipartisan effort incorporating several pieces of legislation targeted at opioid abuse, has been passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate, and President Obama has signed it into law.

A compelling need to fund some of the law’s provisions still remains, but the symbolism and substance of its passage, like the enactment of Governor
Dr. James S. Gessner, MMS President '16-'17_editedCharlie Baker’s opioid bill in March, is hard to overstate.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. hit record numbers in 2014.  While heroin and fentanyl certainly claim their share of lives, prescription opioids continue to fuel the epidemic: at least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, and in 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. In Massachusetts alone, more than 1,500 opioid-related deaths occurred in 2015.

CARA includes several important provisions, including greater access to the life-saving therapies of naloxone and buprenorphine, help for infants and veterans, and the reauthorization of the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act, or NASPER, which provides for prescription monitoring programs that have proven to reduce opioid prescribing and overdose deaths.

One provision of CARA, however, can make a big difference: partial-fill prescriptions that will help patients balance the need to relieve pain with an adequate supply of medication by only filling part of a prescription.

The importance of a partial-fill prescription is that it can help to cut drug diversion – something that makes up a significant part of the opioid abuse crisis.  Estimates from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that the majority of individuals – up to an astonishing 70 percent – who misuse or abuse pain medications get them from prescriptions written for someone else, such as family or friends.

Advocated by Massachusetts physicians, the partial-fill legislation was championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Kathrine Clark, who co-sponsored the Reducing Unused Medications Act of 2016 that became part of CARA. With few exceptions, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regulations had previously prevented partial-fill prescriptions.

While state law also now permits partial-fills, passed as part of the Governor’s opioid bill due to the efforts of Senator John Keenan of Quincy, the Federal law goes a step further by allowing the patient to fill the unused portion of the prescription, should patients need more relief.  State law currently does not.  This new provision in CARA will enable Massachusetts to change its law to become aligned with the new Federal law, as well as give other states the ability to pass partial-fill legislation.

In prescribing pain medicines, physicians are challenged with balancing the risk of addiction versus ensuring adequate pain relief for their patients. In efforts to reduce patients’ pain, however, too many prescriptions have been written, and prescription opioids have played a major role in driving this epidemic. Partial-fill prescriptions have the potential to shrink the amount of drugs susceptible to abuse and misuse or theft from unsecured locations such as family medicine cabinets – the place where Director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy Michael Botticelli has said the epidemic starts.

The law permitting partial-fill prescriptions is another in a long list of substantive efforts taken to address the opioid epidemic.  Here in Massachusetts, we perhaps have had more actions taken much sooner than elsewhere to fight opioid abuse. Governor Baker’s Opioid Working Group that led to bipartisan landmark legislation, law enforcement programs such as Gloucester’s Angel Program and the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office MATADOR program for inmates, prescribing guidelines and prescriber education offered by our state medical society, and public information campaigns are among endeavors contributing to prevention, education, treatment, recovery.  These efforts, underway for more than a year now, are now beginning to see some results in recovery and reduced prescribing rates.

Another major step will be taken in August, when the Department of Public Health launches its new prescription monitoring program, offering enhanced searching capability along with access to data from other states.

These actions provide encouragement and hope. Yet despite this momentum, the rate of opioid-related deaths in the Commonwealth continues to climb  – a stark reminder of the human cost of this epidemic.  And those rising numbers keep sending us an important message: that’s there’s no room for complacency, a need for even more vigilance, and a long, long way to go before we can claim real progress.

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS blog, offering Dr. Gessner’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine. 

 


The President’s Podium: Encouraging Prescriber Education  

Posted in Drug Abuse, opioids, Public Health on June 24th, 2016 by MMS Communications – Comments Off on The President’s Podium: Encouraging Prescriber Education  

by James S.  Gessner, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Massachusetts Medical Society has been the leading health care organization in the Commonwealth responding to the opioid epidemic. For more than a year, we have been working with state and public health officials, legislators and other health care leaders and have developed multiple responses to address the crisis.  Gessner Crop

My predecessor, Dr. Dennis Dimitri, has been extraordinary in leading MMS over the past year and making the crisis the society’s number one priority. As Chairman of the Task Force on Opioid Therapy and Communication, I was privileged to be part of those efforts.

One of our major activities has centered on education, for both patients and physicians.  We have created a website and produced public service and video programs for patients, urging proper storage and disposal, consideration of alternative therapies, and discussions with their physicians on how best to treat pain.

One area we’re having significant impact is prescriber education.

This effort began with the issuance of our Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication Guidelines in May of 2015.  Developed with the most relevance for physicians and health professionals in primary care — those who prescribe the majority of pain medications – these guidelines were subsequently adopted by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and incorporated into its comprehensive advisory to physicians on prescribing issues and practices.

In that same month, we started offering our continuing medical education courses on opioids and pain management free to all prescribers. We recognized early that prescriber education would be a critical step in addressing the opioid epidemic and that our society could make a significant contribution by sharing our resources.

The response to these courses has been encouraging indeed.

In a span of 13 months, from May 2015 through June 20 of this year, a total of 15, 175 of the Society’s continuing medical education courses in pain management and safe opioid prescribing have been completed by 5,265 individuals. Of those, 86 percent are physicians, and 66 percent practice in Massachusetts.

We currently offer 18 opioid and pain management online courses, with a range of content. Among the topics are managing pain without overusing opioids, managing risk when prescribing narcotics, safe prescribing for chronic pain, screening and evaluation of substance abuse disorder, and alternative therapies to opioids.  These courses are reviewed and updated regularly, to provide health professionals with the latest information on opioids and pain management.

Our prescriber education efforts, however, have gone even further, to include working with state public health officials and the deans of the state’s four medical schools in creating core competencies on opioids and pain management for medical school students and reaching out to academic medical centers in developing similar educational offerings for residency training programs.

Prescriber education remains one of the critical steps to alleviating the opioid crisis – a fact recognized by Governor Charlie Baker, who also realizes the key role physicians must play in resolving this crisis: “I think we have to be incredibly vigilant and aggressive about working with our colleagues in the health care world on this if we expect to have any long-term success at all,” he told The Boston Globe.

Physicians have a unique role in health care, and we are clearly demonstrating that with our response to the opioid epidemic. MMS will continue its efforts to educate physicians, to improve prescribing practices and reduce the amount of drugs that can be abused or misused.

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS blog, offering Dr. Gessner’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.

 

 

 

The President’s Podium:  Education Is Key to Opioid Battle       

Posted in Drug Abuse, opioids, Physician Focus, Public Health on April 14th, 2016 by MMS Communications – Comments Off on The President’s Podium:  Education Is Key to Opioid Battle       

by Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

Multiple efforts have been taken by many people all over the Commonwealth during the last year to curtail the state’s opioid epidemic.  We’ve seen Dr.DimitriMMS (4)Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Working Group present 65 recommendations to attack the crisis,  law enforcement officials offer treatment instead of arrest, Department of Public Health work on improving the Prescription Monitoring Program, and the deans of the state’s four medical schools establish core competencies in opioids and pain management for medical students.

Our own medical society has been at the forefront of addressing the crisis, with prescribing guidelines, free pain management CME’s to all prescribers, public service campaigns for patients, and collaboration with state and public health officials on a variety of initiatives.

Our latest effort is yet another cooperative endeavor with the Department of Public Health. I am privileged to appear as a guest with Monica Bharel, M.D., M.P.H., Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, on Crisis in the Commonwealth: Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse, the most recent edition of our monthly patient education television series, Physician Focus, produced in cooperation with HCAM-TV in Hopkinton.

Hosted by Lynda Young, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at UMass Medical School and a past president of MMS, the show is intended to educate citizens across the Commonwealth, providing perspectives about many aspects of the opioid crisis: the origins of the epidemic, the impact on patients and families; the roles of prescriber and patient; actions taken by medical, state, and public health agencies; and the provisions of the new state law recently signed by Governor Baker to address the epidemic.

The half-hour program is being distributed to public access television stations across the state, within reach of citizens in some 275 communities, and it is also being posted online at several sites. The video also includes a public service announcement and a listing of local and national resources about substance abuse, opioids and pain medicines, and prevention and treatment options.

While the efforts of many have led to some progress over the last year, the opioid epidemic is a difficult one to attack, as evidenced by recent headlines: Middlesex County saw 20 deaths from overdoses in just three weeks, and an analysis by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission revealed that opioid-related visits to hospitals nearly doubled from 2007 to 2014, reaching 57,000 in 2014.

The opioid crisis has been the Medical Society’s number one priority for the last year, and it will remain at the top of the list.  The video produced with the Department of Public Health is another initiative by physicians and targets what we believe to be one of the keys to success:  education for both patients and prescribers, current and future. As Dr. Bharel states early in the video discussion, “It’s so important that we talk about this and make sure we’re educated and understand the scope of the problem.”

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS Blog, offering Dr. Dimitri’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.

 

April Physician Focus: The Opioid Crisis

Posted in Department of Public Health, Drug Abuse, opioids, Physician Focus, Public Health on April 14th, 2016 by MMS Communications – Comments Off on April Physician Focus: The Opioid Crisis

The Massachusetts Medical Society, in cooperation with the Department of Public Health, has taken another step in its efforts to address the publicOpioids_edited health crisis of opioid and prescription drug abuse affecting residents of the Commonwealth.

The April edition of Physician Focus, Crisis in the Commonwealth: Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse, examines multiple aspects of the opioid epidemic with MMS President Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D. (photo, center) and DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel, M.D., M.P.H., (right), two physicians who have been at the forefront of addressing the problem over the last year.

Hosted by Lynda Young, M.D., (left) Professor of Pediatrics at UMass Medical School and a past president of MMS, the program represents another initiative by the physician community and seeks to educate prescribers, patients, and citizens about the crisis and what steps they can take to help to curtail the abuse.

Among the topics of conversation are the origins of the opioid crisis; the roles of prescribers and patients; actions taken by medical, state, and public health agencies to reduce the abuse; and the provisions of a new state law created specifically to fight the epidemic.  The video also contains a public service announcement recorded by the guests and a list of local and national resources about substance abuse, opioids and pain medicines, and prevention and treatment options.

Physician Focus is distributed to public access television stations throughout Massachusetts, reaching residents in more than 275 cities and towns. It is also available online at www.massmed.org/physicianfocus, www.physicianfocus.org/opioids, and on YouTube.

The President’s Podium: MMS Grassroots Advocacy Leads to Another Positive Step in the Opioid Battle

Posted in Drug Abuse, Leadership, opioids, Public Health on February 26th, 2016 by MMS Communications – Comments Off on The President’s Podium: MMS Grassroots Advocacy Leads to Another Positive Step in the Opioid Battle

by Dennis Dimitri, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

Dr. Dennis Dimitri, MMS PresidentLed by two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, another encouraging step has been taken in the battle against opioid abuse, and it is a prime example of the value and effectiveness of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s grassroots physician advocacy.

In a bipartisan effort, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Katherine Clark, along with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) and Representative Steve Strivers (R-Ohio), have filed legislation in Congress to allow the partial filling of opioid prescriptions.

The Reducing Unused Medications Act would permit prescriptions for pain medications to be partially filled at the request of the physician or patient. The goal of the bill is simple: to reduce the amount of unused pain pills, thereby limiting the number of drugs that can be diverted.

It is a critically important goal. One of the major factors contributing to the opioid epidemic is the availability of prescription medications. Physicians have come to realize that, in their efforts to reduce pain, too many prescriptions have been written. This overprescribing has led to the diversion of medications, so much so, in fact, that the majority of individuals – estimates are about 70 percent – who misuse or abuse pain medications get them from prescriptions written for friends or family. The number of Americans 12 years of age and older who report using prescription pain medications for nonmedical use approaches 12 million.

A partial-fill prescription would help patients balance the need to relieve pain with an adequate supply of pain medication by only filling part of the prescription. Should they need additional pain relief, patients will be able to return to the pharmacy to fill the remaining portion of their prescription. Partial-fill prescriptions can be a useful tool for physicians, many of whom find it genuinely hard to know how much pain medication to prescribe.

The idea of partial-fill prescriptions began within our own medical society, with the concept first surfacing at a Worcester North District Medical Society meeting with my predecessor, Dr. Rick Pieters. With MMS advocating for its adoption, the idea caught the attention of elected officials at both the state and Federal levels.

Massachusetts State Senator John F. Keenan (D-Quincy), who served as Vice Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options, included a provision for it in a bill the Senate passed last year, and Senator Warren and Representative Clark have now filed a bill in Congress.

Questions remain, however, about the legality of partial-fill prescriptions. Current Drug Enforcement Administration regulations allow for partial fills for Schedule III, IV, and V, but prohibit them, with few exceptions, for Schedule II.

The legislation filed by Senator Warren and Representative Clark (which follows an effort last year by both legislators, supported by the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation and dozens of others members of Congress, urging DEA to allow such prescriptions) elevates the importance of this step in the fight against opioid abuse. Most importantly, the bill would provide clarity from the DEA about the legality of partial-fill prescriptions and permit states to act.

MMS strongly supports partial-fill prescriptions and believes they can be an important tool in fighting opioid abuse. Last year, at the Massachusetts State House we testified in support of House Bill 1929, legislation permitting partial-fill prescriptions, with the caveat that the bill allow for the remainder of the partial-filled prescription to remain valid.

Improving the way prescription painkillers are prescribed can reduce the number of people who misuse, abuse, or overdose from these powerful drugs, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective treatment. The partial-fill concept is one way to do that, and we are encouraged by and strongly endorse the action of Senator Warren and Representative Clark.

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS Blog, offering Dr. Dimitri’s’ commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.

The President’s Podium: Engaged in the battle? Yes!

Posted in Department of Public Health, Drug Abuse, Health Policy, opioids, Public Health on November 3rd, 2015 by MMS Communications – 1 Comment

by Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

The voices of the media are becoming more frequent and more pointed about the nation’s opioid epidemic, and the Dr. Dennis Dimitri, MMS Presidentnarrative that physicians are part of the problem continues.

The suggestion that physicians are lax in addressing the opioid epidemic or are reluctant to work toward solutions has been espoused by national and local media. A November 2 editorial in The Boston Globe takes our medical society to task, suggesting that we are reluctant to work with public officials and are even obstructing progress because we believe there needs to be more flexibility in the Governor’s proposed limit of a 72-hour supply of opioids for first-time prescriptions.

The idea that physicians are standing on the sideline or hindering progress toward solutions to the opioid epidemic is simply wrong. The fact is that MMS officers and staff have been meeting and working with Governor Baker, Health and Human Services Secretary Sudders, Attorney General Healey, and Public Health Commissioner Bharel for some months in order to address this crisis and develop strategies and responses. There has been nothing casual about the MMS response to this crisis.

Our opioid prescribing guidelines, issued in May, were in fact a response to the Governor’s request for assistance in addressing the epidemic. Our guidelines outlining use of the lowest effective dose for the shortest time presaged the Governor’s opioid bill by several months, and were subsequently adopted by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and incorporated into its comprehensive advisory to physicians on prescribing issues and practices.

Additionally, the MMS has called for every physician to rethink their prescribing practices with the goal of reducing the number of opioids prescribed. We ‘own’ that part of the problem.

We have worked with members of the Baker administration on several initiatives and have invited them to work with us as we reach out to physician leaders for help. Physicians are firmly committed to working with government leaders, public health officials, and others in the medical community to stem the tide of opioid and prescription drug abuse.

Our other actions speak to that, as well.

Our continuing medical education courses on opioid prescribing and pain management have been taken by nearly 2,000 individuals since we began offering them free in May. Nearly 5,000 courses have been taken.

We have reached out to the medical community and beyond with our annual public health forum and our Opioid Misuse and Addiction Summit, which brought together physicians, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, and government officials to create awareness and discuss strategies to reduce opioid abuse.

We have been engaged for several years in efforts with the Department of Public Health to improve the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program and are now collaborating with the DPH and the deans of the four Massachusetts medical schools to improve education on opioids and pain management for medical students.

Our dedicated website and public service advertising campaign speak to the importance of safe storage and disposal by patients, two critical elements in curbing abuse.

Physician activity in addressing the opioid crisis by the MMS is not something new in 2015. MMS efforts in alerting patients about prescription drug abuse go back nearly five years, and my predecessors Dr. Ron Dunlap and Dr. Rick Pieters were instrumental in bringing the urgency and importance of opioid abuse to our members and the patient population.

As I wrote back in July, physicians have made the commitment to be part of the solution. We will remain so and will continue to work with government and public health officials, our colleagues in the medical community, and our patients to attack this crisis.

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS Blog, offering Dr. Dimitri’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.