Massachusetts Medical Society: Bold Steps to End the Opioid Epidemic; the Physician Contribution to the Solution

Bold Steps to End the Opioid Epidemic; the Physician Contribution to the Solution

MMS Pain Management CME Free for All Prescribers


The MMS has launched a comprehensive campaign, Smart Scripts MA, to educate prescribers and the public about the safe and responsible prescribing and handling of opioids. 

“The epidemic of opioid use and the associated overdose deaths has been slowly building across the nation and Massachusetts for the last decade, and has now reached a crisis point,” said MMS President Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D. “It is affecting nearly every city and town in the Commonwealth. In some communities, the crisis is unprecedented.”

According to the CDC, more than 80 percent of people who misuse prescription pain medications are using drugs prescribed to someone else. These drugs are most often obtained from a friend or relative — for free, purchased, or stolen.

“By limiting supply and ensuring that opioids are available only to patients who truly need them, we can make a big impact on the Commonwealth’s opioid crisis,” said Dr. Dimitri.

The Smart Scripts MA campaign has three ­components:

  1. Prescribing Guidelines
    After reviewing standards already developed by many state and medical specialty societies, the MMS has recommended a set of guidelines for use by all physicians. (See for full details on guidelines.)
  2. Prescriber Education
    Until further notice, MMS CME online courses on pain management and opioid prescribing are available free to all prescribers. The urgent interests of the community are paramount, and the MMS wishes to remove as many barriers to this prescriber education information as possible.
  3. Public Education
    An effective first step to reduce non-medical opioid use is through education. Therefore, in an effort to curb the supply of prescription opioids in the community, the MMS has agreed to partner with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and its Medicine Abuse Project to broadly disseminate information about the safe storage and proper disposal of opioid medications.

    Most people are probably unaware that their medicine cabinets are attractive targets for those who would misuse opioids, and they could be an unwitting supplier. This education program will provide guidance on how to safely store and secure medications, and how to get rid of them when they are no longer needed.

    This new SmartScripts MA campaign follows several meetings between MMS officers and state leaders, including Gov. Charlie Baker Health and Human Services Sec. Marylou Sudders, and Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as the MMS Public Health Leadership Forum on the topic of opioid addiction in April.

    That forum brought together more than 200 physicians, health care professionals, and policymakers to discuss the problem of opioids in Massachusetts, with keynote address by White House Drug Policy Director Michael Botticelli.

    Moderated by John Burress, M.D., vice chair of the MMS Committee on Public Health, the program discussed policy and clinical challenges and opportunities in pain management and substance abuse prevention and treatment. The program highlighted the need for increased physician and patient education and addressed the challenges of finding specialists in pain management and addiction treatment to whom to refer patients.

    Opioids were also the focus of the Ethics Forum at the MMS Annual Meeting, which explored ethical considerations in pain management, including responsible prescribing, the complexity of pain as a clinical issue, and the ethical problems associated with undertreatment and overtreatment. The panelists also considered the balance between a physician’s obligations to the patient and obligations to public health when it comes to prescribing opioids.

    The culmination of these educational efforts into the current three-pronged campaign is timely, and well-positioned to help alleviate the suffering of patients and their families, according to Dr. Dimitri. “This is a problem that we need to address head-on,” he said. “Every physician has a role.”

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