Massachusetts physician assistant programs adopt curricula to prevent opioid abuse

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Morbidity and mortality from prescription and synthetic opioid use and abuse continues to be a public health issue in the United States. To help curtail this crisis, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) describe an approach to ensure physician assistant (PA) program graduates in Massachusetts have the knowledge and skills to prescribe opiates safely, according to an article in the Journal of Physician Assistant Education.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, along with the Massachusetts Association of Physician Assistants, created a working group for addressing the opioid crisis in the state by convening representatives from all nine PA programs to discuss curricular competencies as the Governor's Physician Assistant Education Working Group on Prescription Drug Misuse. The programs came together and adopted these competencies for a first-in-the-nation, cross-institutional partnership toward the prevention and management of prescription drug misuse.

The article outlines the consensus building techniques they used to build agreement. They also highlight the process used to bring programs together and provide specific examples of how PA Programs teach students. In the article, the authors said they feel the process, competencies, and curricular innovations described in their article have the potential to serve as a roadmap for the development of additional statewide, interdisciplinary collaborations around an educational approach to the opioid epidemic.

"It is encouraging to know that we can find common ground and, in doing so, we have the potential to improve the education of our students and hopefully have a positive impact on patient outcomes," said Susan White, MD, PA program director at BUSM.

White said she believes the process implemented in Massachusetts could be used to address other public health crises, a sentiment echoed by Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

"Physician assistant students need to be prepared to prevent and treat opioid use disorder and opioid overdose," said Bharel in a statement. "We were pleased to work with the PA schools in Massachusetts to incorporate addiction treatment into their school curricula."