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Opiates: Tomorrow’s doctors will do better

The opiate addiction crisis that is plaguing the country – and especially West Virginia – has many causes. Some are economic, some are psychological, some are from isolation and breakdown of communities and some are rooted in patterns of criminal activity.

But there’s no doubt that a portion of the responsibility for this crisis lies at the feet of the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. For too long, some doctors were too eager to prescribe powerful, addictive painkillers to patients in response to the concern that pain removal was an important endpoint. In fact, pain was identified as a fifth vital sign.

Authors Sam Quinones ("Dreamland" and John Temple ("American Pain") speak at a WVU Festival of Ideas session this semester. They have each written books exploring the dangers of prescription abuse. 

In addition to doctors, drug manufacturers were all too eager to supply a river of pills to meet a growing and profitable demand. In fact, 80% of drug overdoses occur from prescription drugs.

We’ve begun to turn the corner on this issue. But it’s a long road, and we have far to go.

One important step we took this week – along with our colleagues and allies at Marshall University  and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine – is to join with other medical schools around the country to make sure to educate future doctors on the new opiate prescription guidelines agreed upon recently by the country’s leading pain physicians and addiction specialists.

The White House recently asked members of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to endorse the following statement: “Beginning Fall of 2016, we will require all students to take some form of prescriber education in line with CDC guidelines in order to graduate.”

President Obama is discussing the pledge at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, an annual summit that is the largest national collaboration of professionals and advocates impacted by drug abuse and heroin use. WVU Medicine’s Judith Feinberg, M.D., an expert in the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV, that are often associated with drug use is attending the summit in Atlanta and will be bringing back new ideas and insights to the growing team of experts across our state who are making this West Virginia’s top health priority.

My friend Joseph Shapiro, M.D., dean of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall, talked with me about the White House request. We agreed that West Virginia’s schools should take a leading role in this effort.

We are united in our commitment to make sure our physicians-in-training are educated about this issue and know how to treat pain in the most responsible way. We have to stop contributing to the problem.


This issue in the media:

CHARLESTON GAZETTE: CDC University: new doctors and new perspectives key to tackling opioid addiction

WDTV: New Federal Opioid Regulations' Effect on Mountain State

WAJR: WVU and Marshall agree with CDC on opioid prescription guidelines

WV ALWAYS: WVU Backs Obama's Calls for Better Prescriber Education

NEW YORK TIMES: Obama Steps Up U.S. Effort to Fight Abuse of Heroin and Painkillers