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UMass medical students train to treat, prevent opioid abuse

The University of Massachusetts Medical School plans to immediately begin adapting its curriculum to ensure that graduates — including the class of 2016 — are equipped to address opioid abuse and dependence.

The school is expected to announce the new curriculum Monday, one week after the four medical schools in the state agreed to teach a uniform set of skills and knowledge so that new doctors will be able to prevent and treat addiction.

Dr. Michael F. Collins, chancellor of the medical school, said the university felt a sense of urgency about addressing the opioid abuse epidemic, which claimed nearly 700 lives during the first half of this year.


"We're the state's public medical school," Collins said. "When the governor says this is a priority, we pay attention."

Last week, Governor Charlie Baker's Medical Education Working Group on Prescription Drug Misuse announced that Massachusetts medical schools would teach 10 "core competencies."

Every member of this year's graduating class at UMass Medical will be schooled in those core competencies, Collins said. They include evaluating pain, assessing the risk of addiction to painkillers, developing treatment plans for addiction, and counseling on behavior change.

The medical schools at Harvard, Tufts, and Boston universities have also agreed to include the material in their curriculums, but most likely will not do so until the next academic year. Medical schools already address many addiction-related issues, but Baker's group aimed to ensure that the needed skills are acquired by all 3,000 students attending the four schools.

UMass began assessing and revising its curriculum even as the group was deliberating, Collins said.

A curriculum introduced in 2010 already provides classroom instruction in the topics the working group agreed to cover, he said. Now, UMass will add that material to hands-on learning.

A new Opioid and Safe Prescribing Training Immersion program will start this year. The program's first phase will involve assessing students' skills and adding training during two crucial transitions: from the classroom to clinical settings after the second year, and from medical school to internships after the fourth year.


The program will take advantage of the medical school's simulation center, where students practice on lifelike mannequins, and its standardized patient program, in which actors play the role of patients to test students' communication skills.

For example, in the simulation center, students practicing resuscitation will be taught to administer naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug, whenever it's unclear why a patient is unconscious. In the other program, students might interact with actors pretending to seek treatment for pain or showing early signs of drug abuse. They will practice observational and communication skills, prescription planning and writing, patient education and counseling, and performing drug urine screening, Collins said.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.