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Health-related professions looking hard at opioids

University at Buffalo

With modern medicine creating drugs that can be misused for addiction, and opioid drugs for medical care sometimes leading to addiction, many health-related professions are looking hard at prescriptions, prescribing practices and education.

The increasing number of deaths from opioids is forcing a look at how opioids are prescribed, from the drugs themselves to potential alternatives to how many pills should be in a prescription.

The University at Buffalo is dealing with the problem by increasing education in fields from medical education to social work, with 1,000 students from 11 professional groups gathering November 9 to talk about a fictional case of a woman who goes from dental problems to addiction and what went wrong.

Dr. Lisa Jane Jacobsen, associate dean of the Jacobs Medical School for curriculum, said the large group will break down to many small groups.

"Getting together, the students are going to be grouped together in groups of seven or eight with a faculty facilitator and go through a case of a nice, normal female patient who could have been anybody, a person out there who starts getting dental work and suddenly before you know it she has an addiction problem and how it affects her life," she said.

Jacobsen said there is awareness in the larger community as well as doctors and doctors in training.

"Everyone's talking about the opioid epidemic and, sadly, everyone has somebody they know who is suffering from it or has died from it," she said. "It's so common now that when you look in a room and ask your audience of all kinds of people actually, from all different backgrounds. If you even look at a class of interns and residents and medical students, you are going to see all kinds of hands raised."

Jacobsen said part of the problem stems from new ways to prescribe for pain management.

"That it was really important, of course, to keep patients comfortable and almost to a negative point, that pain became the most important thing and that you wanted patients to be smiling and happy and not feeling discomfort," Jacobsen said. "And overdoing it a little bit was considered to be okay."

That attitude is changing. In some states, governments are placing severe restriction on prescribing practices to limit the number of pills floating around.

Jacobsen said when she meets with med students now, there is personal awareness of the opioid problem and a desire to learn best practices for prescription practices and specific medications.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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