Support for substance use and pain management education
To the Deans of Massachusetts medical schools:

We are deeply concerned about the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. We believe that medical students must be adequately trained in the prevention and care of addiction-related diseases.

Although substance use disorders are common and pervasive, we are concerned that medical students may lack adequate training in and exposure to addiction medicine. We urge you to ensure that medical school curricula include comprehensive instruction in the prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of substance use disorders.

We commend Governor Baker and leaders of the Massachusetts medical schools for their recent commitments to improve medical training in pain management and safe opioid prescribing. Research has supported the link between the overprescription of opiates and increased rates of opioid addiction and mortality, and we wholeheartedly support this call for better training in safe prescribing practices.

Additional training in safe prescribing, however, is not sufficient. The discussion about medical education surrounding substance use must also include training in screening, diagnosis, and treatment, not only the prevention of substance use disorders. It is crucial that future medical professionals be trained in evidence-based strategies to care for those who are already affected by addiction. Improvements in safe prescribing practices alone will come too late for the 185,000 individuals in Massachusetts already struggling with addiction, and the more than 1,000 people in the state who died from opioid overdoses in 2014.

Systems-level changes are required to address the shortcomings of the public health safety net in helping those struggling with addictions. The Governor’s Opioid Addiction Working Group outlined many of these in their recommendations. Beyond the role of the government, however, we strongly believe that it is also a medical school’s obligation to attend to the needs of the communities they serve, with a special commitment to the most vulnerable members of our society.

We, health professionals, community members, and current and future patients, urge the Deans and other leaders of our institutions to ensure that medical school curricula prepare students to prevent and treat substance use disorders.

We hope we can work together to bring about improvements in our medical education, and in doing so, promote an effective, comprehensive, and compassionate model of care.

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