New findings confirm that continuing education programs on how to safely prescribe and manage opioid therapy can help lower the prevalence of prescription opioid misuse, according to a study published in the journal Pain Medicine.

Prescription opioid misuse numbers have been steadily increasing over the past two decades. To combat this, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made it mandatory for manufacturers of extended release/long acting (ER/LA) opioids to fund continuing education programs based on an FDA blueprint.

In 2013, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) launched the pilot Continuing Medical Education program: Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) that offered a three-hour live or online course. The live programs included 20 half-day individual meetings in 16 different states. The online and live curricula presented a three-visit clinical case: initial visit, one week follow-up, and months later. The initial visit focused on assessing chronic pain and opioid misuse risk; the one week follow-up concentrated on continuing opioid therapy safely; the months later visit addressed assessing and managing abnormal medication taking behaviors.

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A total of 10,566 people participated from the program’s launch through June 2014. Of the total participants, 27% were considered the primary target group consisting of physicians, advanced practice nurses, or physician assistants licensed to prescribe opioid analgesics. After completion of the program, 87% of participants planned to make at least one change in their practice to follow guideline-based care after the program. The most frequently reported changes were to improve opioid prescribing documentation (56%), to implement or improve patient education or communication (53%), and to institute or improve Patient-Prescriber Agreements (47%).

About two-thirds of participants said they have increased confidence in guideline-based opioid prescribing practices and 86% improved how they prescribed and monitored opioids based on benefit vs. risk/harm assessment two months after the training. The course director of the SCOPE of Pain program, Daniel Alford, MD, notes, “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.”

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