The Massachusetts Medical Society released opioid-prescribing guidelines Thursday intended to help physicians make sure patients in pain get the correct treatment without contributing to the epidemic of opioid abuse.
“Most physicians do prescribe quite responsibly,” said Dr. Dennis M. Dimitri, president of the statewide physicians association, which has nearly 25,000 members. “We realize sometimes overprescribing can be a problem.”
The medical society also has started offering its online and in-person pain-management courses free of charge to doctors and other health professionals (nonmembers had paid $11 to $132, while members paid about half that).
In addition, the association said it intends to work with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to educate patients about proper storage and disposal of medications.
Dimitri said painkiller abuse often involves people to whom the drugs were not prescribed. He cited statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that more than 80 percent of people who misuse prescription pain medications are using drugs prescribed to someone else.
But he acknowledged the data make clear “that there are too many doses of opioid medications in circulation.” The medical society’s goal, he said, is to ensure opioids are limited to those truly needing them.
The guidelines, developed by a task force of physicians from several specialties, are to be used by physicians in combination with their clinical judgment.
The recommendations also are designed to help doctors determine if treatment beyond 60 days is warranted, and to guide them in managing chronic pain, including regular monitoring and making treatment-plan agreements with patients.
Dimitri, a family practice doctor in Worcester, said that he often sees patients with chronic pain and finds it a challenge.
“Pain is a complex symptom that can be related to many different factors,” he said. In addition to the physiological issues, pain is strongly influenced by emotion and lifestyle.
“Teasing that all out and trying to figure out the best way of treating goes far beyond deciding whether you want to prescribe opioids,” Dimitri said.
The medical association’s announcement came amid other public pronouncements this week about opioid-related overdoses that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Massachusetts residents last year and that continue to command the attention of policy makers.
On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker expressed surprise that only 36 percent of Massachusetts adults said, in a poll published Sunday, that they had been warned by doctors of the addictive risks of prescription painkillers.
Asked about the governor’s comments, Dimitri said: “Physicians routinely talk to patients about the risk and benefits of every drug. It’s pretty much standard practice.”
The survey by The Boston Globe and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health also found that nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts adults believe heroin use is an extreme or very serious problem in the state.
Also this week:
• Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Wednesday released a report on substance abuse and addiction in the city and announced that Jennifer Tracey, previously director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Services at the state Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, will head the mayor’s Office of Recovery Services. The mayor’s 2015 budget set aside $300,000 to support the office’s creation.
• Dr. Monica Bharel, the state public health commissioner, spoke Thursday before a US House energy and commerce subcommittee about the state’s efforts to address the opioid abuse epidemic.
“We are watching our friends and family members die on our streets, driven by a lethal cocktail of trauma and underlying behavioral health issues,” Bharel said, according to a transcript of her talk. “That is not something we, as a society, should accept as a norm.”