Medical Schools are Finally Changing Curricula Regarding Opiate Addiction

stethoscope and book

Every decade, and often every year, the United States of America suffers from a variety of problems across multiple spectra that must be addressed. In behavioral health, addiction reigns superior as being the most dangerous health crisis our nation is currently faced with. Even from a nationwide, physical health perspective, drug and alcohol addiction is one of the most concerning factors. Of all the addiction trends and problems our country is stricken with, the opiate addiction epidemic is by far the most concerning of them all.

Across the nation, organizations, governments, non-profits, rehabs, communities and individuals alike have made considerable effort to create change in our country’s drug crisis. Now we are seeing medical schools throwing their hat in the ring to see what they can do for preventing opioid abuse. Many U.S. medical schools are making opiate addiction prevention a mandatory focus in educating medical students.

One of many cogs in the ever-revolving wheel of opiate addiction in the U.S. is the role that medical doctors play. Unfortunately, medical doctors contribute to the opioid epidemic by prescribing opiate pain-reliever drugs to their patients. Whether patients need these drugs for legitimate reasons or not, they often become addicted to the substances.

Doctors are under immense pressure to prescribe pain relievers to their patients. When pain was made the fifth vital sign in the late 1990s, this automatically bumped the phenomena of pain up on the list of priorities for doctors to address. Suddenly, making patients “pain-free” became a huge focus, regardless of whether the individual’s pain was manageable or not. In an effort to curb the epidemic that has resulted from overprescribing and countless other factors, medical schools are now teaching doctors-in-training how to recognize doctor shoppers, how to recognize when a patient doesn’t really need prescription drugs, vs. when they do, etc.

Medical Schools Take the Mantle in Opioid Diversion Prevention

Medical class
(Photo by ESB Professional/

Though it will take a few years to get a return on the investment, several medical schools are now training students to recognize addiction, teaching them how to approach addiction while still being able to help people. Over the past fifteen years, many U.S. medical schools now offer mandatory lessons, courses, and interns for their students to learn more about pain, treatment, and various factors of those two.

Medical school faculty says their best intentions behind such educational projects are to train students on how to understand the differences of pain and to be able to spot when opiate pain relievers are appropriate and when they aren’t. The University of Massachusetts School of Medicine spearheaded this campaign, deigning to thoroughly teach their students about pain levels, opiates, and addiction.

Prior to these changes, medical doctors were required to fulfill very little in behavioral health study requirements and addiction study requirements. This was not exactly supposed to be their area of expertise, so it was not required for doctors to be experts on the matter. Now, however, with more than 12 million Americans being addicted and the nation suffering from the worst-ever substance abuse crisis yet, doctors need to be experts on the subject of addiction.

Doctors need to understand pain and pain treatment better, as it does come up quite frequently in regular treatment, primary care, surgery, etc. Nobody wants a patient to suffer from pain, but there are risks to easing that pain for them. Schools like the one in Massachusetts, the University of California, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, The Boston University School of Medicine, the Virginia Commonwealth University of Medicine, and many other such schools are getting behind this effort to educate medical students better.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.