Doctors get educated in an effort to curb opioid overdoses

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This photograph taken on July 18, 2017, shows painkilling pills which contain codeine in a pharmacy in Quimper, western France. – In France Codeine-based medicines will now be available only on prescription, the Ministry of Health announced on July 18 , “to put an end to dangerous and potentially life-threatening addictive practices” linked to the misuse of these products. (Photo by FRED TANNEAU / AFP) (Photo by FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Reining in opioid prescriptions is one strategy governments and medical providers have deployed to curb the overdose epidemic driven by opioids. A group of researchers found a even brief teaching video was enough to make a noticeable difference in prescription habits.

Pankti Acharya, a medical student at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, worked with a team of researchers who recruited 90 medical residents from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

They gave those residents a pre-video quiz designed to test their knowledge of opioids and pain management; the test included clinical scenarios where they’d have to identify the appropriate treatment.

The residents were then shown the video — a seven-minute pre-recorded lecture that included statistics about the opioid crisis as well as more general information about opioids, including treatment guidelines from leading authorities. After the lecture, they got another quiz.

“We found a lot of improvement,” Acharya said. “So we found that the provider attitudes were just different. We found that a lot of people were more…understanding about the pros and the cons of opioid prescribing.”

For example, prior to watching the video, residents were correctly prescribing opioids for migraines 14.8% of the time. Following the lecture, that rate improved to 38.5%.

A slide in the lecture given to medical residents. Courtesy of Pankti Acharya.

Years of changing practices have led to fewer opioid prescriptions by medical providers. In 2020, the rate of prescription opioid dispensing fell to its lowest level in 15 years.

Overdoses due to synthetic opioids — mostly fentanyl — have replaced prescriptions as a leading cause of death. Of the over 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021, fentanyl was responsible for more than 70,000 of them.

Some people who misuse prescription opioids also end up switching to other drugs such as heroin, suggesting that preventing addiction to these prescription drugs can also prevent the use of other potentially harmful substances.

Nonetheless, some medical providers continue to lack adequate formal training about opioid prescribing. Pankti believes that educational tools like the one her team designed can help tackle this problem.

“I think this was a great study to conduct to just to kind of lead the way and start the discussion for other people to maybe implement this in their residency programs or even in medical school education,” Pankti said.

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