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.


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