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US Medical Training to Curb Opioid Abuse
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US Medical Training to Curb Opioid Abuse

Medical schools in the US are rethinking their training on opioids amid rising overdose deaths. Schools are taking action after critics said they had inadvertently contributed to addiction problems. Federal health experts say that physicians have been prescribing addictive opioid painkillers too often, and that poor training is frequently to blame.
According to federal data, opioid painkillers were responsible for nearly 19,000 deaths across the US in 2014, an increase of more than 400% since 2000. Heroin, by comparison, killed 10,000 people in 2014.
“We are over 10 years into this epidemic, and I don’t think we’ve seen a robust enough response from the medical community,” Michael Botticelli, the White House’s drug czar, told reporters in Boston last month, AP reported.
Studies have found that medical students at American schools spend far less time learning to treat pain than their peers in other countries, or even veterinary students in the US.
Even at top schools like Harvard, students say they aren’t trained enough. A group of students there organized their own clinic on addiction treatment this year to fill gaps in the curriculum.
“There’s a sense of urgency to tackle this issue from all fronts, and I think medical schools and teaching hospitals are really committed to doing their part,” said Tannaz Rasouli, senior director of public policy and strategic outreach for the American Association of Medical Colleges.
Under pressure from the White House, more than 60 US medical schools pledged in April to teach new federal guidelines for prescribing opioid painkillers.
Dozens of schools, including Brown and Columbia universities, have received federal grants to teach a standard interviewing method that helps screen patients for drug abuse.
“Students are expected to be able to identify and address that as well as they would someone’s diabetes or hypertension,” said Dr. Frances Levin, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia’s medical center.
The goal is partly to cut down on opioid prescribing. At Boston University, for example, students learn alternative ways to treat pain such as relaxation therapy and breathing exercises.
Many schools are also adding more training simulations like the University of Massachusetts, using trained actors known as “standardized patients.” The idea is to put students through complex cases that they’ll face in practice, and to help gauge whether students are asking patients the right questions in the right way.
At the end of those exercises, students learn whether they made the right decision.

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