MMS, Medical Schools, Governor Join in Opioid Abuse Battle

MMS President Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D.

Taking another step in the battle against opioid abuse in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Medical  Society, along with representatives from the state’s four medical schools, met yesterday with Governor Charlie Baker and Commissioner of Public Health Monica Bharel, M.D., to discuss a physician-led approach in developing training and best practices for medical students on pain management and safe opioid prescribing.

Providing physicians with additional training on opioids was part of the comprehensive set of 65 recommendations released in June by the Governor’s Opioid Working Group. Yesterday’s meeting was a collaborate effort by the Governor, the Department of Public Health, and the state’s leading physicians to develop that recommendation.

MMS President Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D. described the meeting as one filled with a “spirit of cooperation and positive energy about what we can do working together” to continue the battle against opioid abuse.

Continuing medical education on opioids and pain management has been a prime focus of MMS in its efforts to help curb opioid abuse. In May, MMS issued its Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication Guidelines, offering evidence of best practices for prescribing and made its continuing medical education courses on opioids and pain management free to all prescribers. These courses have been accessed more than 3,200 times.

In a press conference following the meeting, Governor Baker said he was “pleased with the quality of the dialogue” and saw the meeting as the first of several discussions with physicians about their role in addressing the opioid epidemic. “Everybody’s got a role to play,” said Baker, “and we can’t move fast enough” in the fight.

DPH Commissioner Bharel said the meeting resulted in agreement to develop core competencies to educate future doctors on safe prescribing and pain management.

In offering the physicians’ perspective, Dr. Dimitri said physicians constantly face the “challenge of patients with ongoing pain, but the pressure of time, inadequate systems to help the physician and patient deal with pain, and the lack of alternative methods of pain relief covered by insurance put physicians in a tight box” where options to relieve pain were limited and the choice of opioids seemed the most appropriate one.

Dr. Dimitri added that doctors now recognize the impact of the number of opioids in the community and that too many have been allowed to be prescribed. Pledging MMS support of the Governor’s effort, Dr. Dimitri said “we’re very glad to participate in this process.”

MMS commitment to the effort was evidenced by the presence at the meeting of its top three officers – Dr. Dimitri, President-Elect James Gessner, M.D., and Vice President Henry Dorkin, M.D. – and Executive Vice President Corinne Broderick. The medical schools were represented by Karen Antman, M.D., Dean of the Boston University School of Medicine; Harris A. Berman, M.D., Dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine; Terence R. Flotte, M.D., Dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School; and Todd Griswald, M.D., Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Selected press coverage is available here: Boston Herald, Republican, WCVB-TV.

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