HCN News & Notes

Mass. Medical Society Takes Additional Steps to Combat Opioid Epidemic

WALTHAM — The Mass. Medical Society (MMS) announced it is taking additional actions to combat the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth by reaching out to physicians and patients with additional messages about safe prescribing and pain medications.

Dr. Dennis Dimitri, president of the 25,000-member physicians group, said that the medical society has made the public-health crisis of opioid abuse a “top priority” of the organization and that “we are committed to doing everything in our power to end the overdose crisis.”

Dimitri said separate messages have been developed for physicians and patients. Physicians are being urged to reconsider how they prescribe opioid medications, and patients are being encouraged to discuss with their physicians the risks and benefits of pain medications. Each of the messages also directs the listener or reader to www.massmed.org/opioids, the MMS website that contains information on prescribing and opioid abuse.

Specific steps the medical society is taking include the following:

• A new public-service announcement, recorded by Dimitri, will be aired during radio broadcasts of New England Patriots football games. The society began its public-service campaign in August with a spot featuring Dimitri and Patriot safety Devin McCourty that talked about the safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs. The new spot, speaking directly to patients and encouraging them to talk with their doctors, will begin Sunday, Nov. 15.

• An “Open Letter to the People of Massachusetts” from Dimitri will be published in the Boston Globe on Sunday, Nov. 15. The letter encourages patients to have “open and candid conversations with their doctors about opioids,” including “whether alternatives to opioids would be effective for you.”

• The society’s new prescribing guidelines will be distributed to every member of the society, with a cover letter from Dimitri urging those who prescribe to study the new guidelines, to recommend opioids in the smallest possible dose for the shortest period of time, to consider alternatives to opioids for treatment of pain, and to review the society’s free offerings of continuing-medical-education (CME) courses on pain management and opioid prescribing.

“The epidemic of opioid overdoses in Massachusetts has made it imperative that physicians re-examine their practices for prescribing opioid medications,” Dimitri said. “The guidelines can be a powerful prevention measure, which we hope will mark a turning point in our efforts to end this terrible epidemic.”

The medical society has been in the forefront of battling the opioid epidemic, creating programs on its own and working with Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel in developing strategies and responses to the crisis.

The society’s core responses to the opioid crisis have been the development of new prescribing guidelines, issued in May and subsequently adopted by the Mass. Board of Registration in Medicine and incorporated into its comprehensive advisory to physicians on prescribing issues and practices, and offering its CME courses on opioid prescribing and pain management free to all prescribers. Nearly 2,000 individuals have taken almost 5,000 CME courses since the free courses began in May.

Additionally, the organization has sponsored two public forums for providers and public-health officials, created a dedicated website for physicians and patients, and helped develop, in concert with the deans of the state’s four medical schools, medical-education core competencies for medical students on preventing prescription drug misuse. It also continues to work with the Department of Public Health to improve the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program. For more information on the medical society’s efforts, visit www.massmed.org.