Education Positively Impacts Safe Opioid Prescribing Among Clinicians


A recent study in the journal Pain Medicine, looking at the impact of continuing medical education (CME) on opioid prescribing found that educating clinicians on how to safely prescribe opioids can help decrease misuse among chronic pain sufferers. 

While untreated or under-treated chronic pain causes reduced function and quality of life, including increased risks of suicide, more aggressive chronic pain management with opioid analgesics has been associated with an increase in prescription opioid misuse including addiction and overdose deaths. Due to the high prevalence of prescription opioid misuse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) requiring manufacturers of extended release/long acting (ER/LA) opioids to fund continuing education based on an FDA Blueprint. The ER/LA Opioid Analgesics REMS was designed to ensure that the benefits of ER/LA opioid analgesics outweigh the risks in patients whose clinicians have determined ER/LA opioid analgesics to be an appropriate treatment option. 

“SCOPE” of Pain Program

Boston University School of Medicine, the first CME provider to receive ER/LA opioid REMS funding, launched its Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) program in 2013. It is offered as a three-hour live or online activity. The live programs included 20 half-day standalone meetings across the US in 16 states. The live and online curricula are identical and presented using a clinical case involving three separate visits: initial visit – assessing chronic pain and opioid misuse risk; one week later – initiating (continuing) opioid therapy safely and months later – assessing and managing aberrant medication taking behaviors. This allows participants to apply the ER/LA opioid REMS content to a common clinical scenario.

SCOPE of Pain is an online educational program designed to help HCPs “safely and competently use opioids, if appropriate, to manage [ ] patients with chronic pain.” Through the case of Mary Williams, a 42 year old with painful diabetic neuropathy and chronic low back pain, HCPs learn how to:

  1. Decide on appropriateness of opioid analgesics
  2. Assess for opioid misuse risk;
  3. Counsel patients about opioid safety, risks and benefits;
  4. Competently monitor patients prescribed opioids for benefit and harm;
  5. Make decisions on continuing or discontinuing opioid analgesics; and
  6. Safely discontinue opioids when there is too little benefit or too much risk and harm

Scope Training Program Results

A total of 10,566 participants have completed SCOPE of Pain since its inception through June 2014, writes the Boston University Medical Center. Twenty-seven percent (2,850/10,566) were considered the primary target group (defined as being physicians, advanced practice nurses or physician assistants licensed to prescribe opioid analgesics and a member of 13 specialties that routinely manage patients with chronic pain).

Immediately post-program, 87 percent of participants stated they were planning to make at least one change to align their practice with guideline-based care. The most frequently stated changes were 1) to improve opioid prescribing documentation (56 percent); 2) to implement or improve opioid prescribing patient education or communication (53 percent); and 3) to institute or improve Patient-Prescriber Agreements (47 percent).

Two months after the training, approximately two-thirds of participants reported increased confidence in guideline-based opioid prescribing practices and 86 percent improved how they prescribe opioids and monitor patients for benefits and harm.

“Our program improved knowledge, attitudes, confidence and clinical practice in safe opioid prescribing,” explained corresponding author Daniel Alford, MD, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean at Boston University School of Medicine and course director of the SCOPE of Pain program.

The report notes that while SCOPE of Pain improved clinician-level safe opioid prescribing outcomes, its impact on mitigating opioid misuse risk and harm while maintaining access to opioids for those who are or would benefit remains an unanswered question according to the researchers. “While education cannot be the only strategy to combat this national crisis, it can help improve clinician behaviors and be a major part of the solution,” added Alford who is also the medical director of the Office-Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT) at Boston Medical Center.


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