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Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: U.S. Medical School Curricular Approaches

In the past decade, deaths in the U.S. due to opioids have increased dramatically. Understanding the current state and needs of the opioid epidemic is paramount. Many opportunities exist for intervention to reduce deaths and prescription drug misuse, including the training and professional development of physicians. In particular, education on pain assessment and treatment and instruction in prevention and management of substance use disorders (SUDs) holds the potential to minimize inappropriate prescribing of opioids and to better manage and prevent SUDs. This Analysis in Brief (AIB) examines the results of a national survey of curriculum deans from LCME-accredited U.S. medical schools to assess their current or anticipated plans in addressing the opioid epidemic. Findings reveal that medical schools are integrating the competencies considered relevant to addressing the opioid epidemic across the four years of medical school, and that medical schools are adapting their curricula to address the complexity of the opioid epidemic. Specifically, 87% of respondents report that all four identified domains of pain and SUDs are addressed in their institutions’ curricula, and 100% report addressing at least two of the four domains. The vast majority of respondents report that all 31 individual pain and SUD competencies in the domains are taught within the required curriculum across the years of medical school. Respondents also reported both challenges to enhance educational content and effective strategies identified to address the challenges.. Increased collaboration in education and assessment among schools and across the medical education continuum and professional fields will further the progress of better health outcomes for the patients and communities medical schools and teaching hospitals serve.

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