Indiana University School of Medicine representatives will be encouraging members of Congress to support the Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 at a briefing held in the nation’s capital.
The bill, which was co-sponsored in the House by Indiana’s Rep. Susan Brooks, would increase Medicare support for graduate medical education (GME) training programs related to substance abuse and chronic pain care.
Bradley Allen, MD, PhD
“The bill would lead to the expansion of existing training programs and the creation of new ones in these critical areas,” said IU School of Medicine senior associate dean for medical student education Bradley Allen, MD, PhD. Allen is participating in a congressional briefing hosted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Congressional Academic Medicine Caucus (CAMC) to discuss the importance of increased training for students, residents and fellows to better care for patients struggling with substance abuse and chronic pain.
“As practitioners, we see patients who struggle with addiction and the health problems that come with it,” Allen said. “It’s a huge problem in the primary care field, so we have to make sure all of our cadres of trainees realize the need to treat the whole person. We can’t treat someone’s heart valve infection related to use of intravenous drugs unless we also treat their addiction and address any chronic pain or mental health issues.”
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, nearly two million people across the country abuse or are dependent on prescription opioids. While Indiana has seen a sharp decrease in its opioid prescription rate since 2012, that number remains high, with providers writing 74.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people in 2017. Despite these gains in Indiana prescribing, the number of overdose deaths rose 22 percent in 2017.
IU School of Medicine is already taking steps to provide more training in this area. Medical students are receiving more focus on pain management and substance abuse screening in the first year of school. They learn ways to treat pain without opiates, the role of medication-assisted therapy for addiction and how to determine the mental health needs related to substance abuse. The school is also home to the state’s only addiction fellowship program.
But the AAMC and others say more needs to be done to better train students, residents and fellows at medical schools across the country to fight the opioid epidemic and help care for patients experiencing substance abuse. Allen said IU School of Medicine plans to further enhance training in screening for risk factors, making referrals, initiating medication-assisted therapy and mental health treatment in addition to increasing training opportunities for addiction and pain therapists to serve patients from all over the state.
“Substance use impacts both urban and rural areas,” Allen said. “Awareness of how to recognize, screen and refer patients to community resources is critical, but the resources also need to be in place.”