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Mass. med schools to step up anti-painkiller addiction training

In our country’s “war on drugs,” one problem that is gaining increasingly more attention is addiction to prescription drugs, especially painkillers. Many of these powerful drugs are highly addictive, and patients who take them at first to deal with chronic pain often find that the pills have taken over their lives. Trapped in their addiction, they go from doctor to doctor, searching for someone who will write them their next prescription.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous doctors take advantage of addicts. They write prescriptions after little to no examination, often in exchange for cash. Other times, the doctor simply lacks the competence to prescribe painkillers in a way that minimizes the risk of abuse, or to help patients who have fallen into addiction.

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts’ four medical schools agreed to add anti-addiction education to their curricula. Under an agreement reached with Gov. Charlie Baker, the med schools at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts, Boston University and Tufts will teach their students a list of 10 “core competencies” to prevent, treat and manage opioid abuse in their patients.

While the medical schools already teach some of these skills, under the new system their curricula on painkiller addiction will be uniform.

Making this a priority will hopefully help stem the death and misery that opioid addiction causes in Massachusetts. But it will take a generation or two of physicians before this training is widespread in the state. Until then, there will continue to be doctors who struggle to care for patients dealing with addiction -- and those who exploit addicts for profit.

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