Will the Next Generation of Doctors Be Better Equipped to Treat Pain?

Medical students listening lecture

We look to our doctors for help in improving our physical condition, and that covers a broad range of areas. Whenever we struggle with any physical ailment or sickness, whether caused by an illness, disease, accident, injury, virus, allergy, infection, or hereditary issue, our doctors are there to see us through it.

Since doctors accept the responsibility of upholding the health of the nation, they have a fair degree of pressure on them. While doctors almost always do a fantastic job, one area in which the entire medical industry failed the American people was in the treatment of pain. Around the turn of the century, rather than continuing to find ways to treat the source of pain, doctors and the medical sector as a whole got distracted by the handsome incentives and hard-sell encouragement of the pharmaceutical industry to treat the symptoms of pain with opioid pain relievers rather than tackling pain at its source.

Doctors and Medical Schools Alike Are Starting to “Get It”

The American people and the medical industry alike have spent the last twenty years learning just how much of a mistake that was. Millions of Americans have become addicted to painkillers; tens of thousands have died. And with every addiction and every death, a family is traumatized for life.

Very recently, a few medical schools have begun to add courses to their curriculum on opioid prescribing, how to prescribe, what to watch out for, and how to be conservative in prescribing. This is an enormous move in the right direction, as it will educate the future generation of doctors on how to contend with opioid painkillers which carry with them as much or more risk than they do benefit.

Brown University Sets the Bar for Educating New Physicians

Brown University is located on the northeastern seaboard, one of the regions of the country most heavily damaged by the 21st-century opioid crisis. The Rhode Island medical school was one of the first of its kind to implement new courses regarding opioid prescribing, insisting that medical students be adequately educated on the risk factors attendant with even the ethical use of opioid pain relievers.

WBUR, a Boston public news radio station, reported extensively on Brown University’s opioid education program. The Brown program is an extensive one. It involves hands-on training and roleplaying where medical students are placed in lifelike scenarios with actors who pose as patients. Some of the “patients” are seeking pain relief for legitimate reasons whereas others are doctor shopping to get meds for self-medicative purposes. Others need pain relief, but they display signs that they would be at high risk for misuse of their pain meds. It’s up to the medical students to ask the right questions, make the correct observations, and ultimately make the correct call on whether or not to prescribe opioids to the “patient” in front of them.

This hands-on, practical approach to medical training has proven to be highly appreciated and workable. Medical students are learning from the mistakes of the previous generation. The prior generation of medical doctors that did not know what to do when addiction and pharmaceutical drugs converged into one. Addictive pharmaceutical pain reliever drugs? That threw the current generation of medical doctors off. Hopefully, it will not do the same to the next generation.

The University of Massachusetts Wins Awards for Innovation in Opioid Education

While every state felt the death knell of the opioid epidemic of the 21st-century, few states suffered as much as Massachusetts. In the last several years, Massachusetts has taken a range of actions to combat the medical problem, one of them being training medical students on the harms and risks of opioid pain relievers.

UMass Medical School won the Association of American Medical Colleges Curricular Innovation Award for its Opioid Safe-prescribing Training Immersion (OSTI) curriculum. UMass Medical School put together an educational program highly successful in schooling med students on proper opioid prescribing, how to address doctor shopping “patients,” and how to help patients who would be at high risk for misuse of opioids.

The Association of American Medical Colleges said that UMass Medical School, “Stood out as a stellar example of how AAMC member institutions are working to advance the education of students, residents and practicing physicians about opioids, substance use disorder, and pain management.”

Administrative Boards Begin to Take Up the Mantle

This might be a relatively new movement, but other universities and medical groups are beginning to move towards a significant change in how doctors handle opioid pharmaceuticals.

The Association of American Medical Colleges put on an event called the “National Workshop to Advance Medical Education to Combat Opioid Misuse: Working Together Across the Continuum” in May of this year. This convention brought representatives together from medical schools and teaching hospitals, “To advance educational content related to pain and addiction within undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education.”

That was also a move in the right direction. The conference sought to identify both the areas of current prescribing practices that were working well and also looked at areas that needed improvement. The meeting catalyzed the next steps in disseminating knowledge, resources, and organizational action across the medical education spectrum. The goal? To get all medical education institutions training med students in the proper, conservative, and ethical methodology of opioid prescribing.

Looking to the Future

Rewind the clock ten years, even just five years, and you would not have found any medical schools to speak of that were educating their students on the harms and potentially fatal risks of opioid pharmaceutical pain relievers. So the fact that the nation is finally moving in the right direction towards educating medical students on opioid painkillers is a good sign indeed.

It’s movement in the right direction, and it’s a start. Going forward, medical schools also need to focus on teaching doctors about alternatives in pain relief. Medical schools still need to give their students solutions that those students will then pass on to patients when patients struggle with pain. The difference going forward is that the solution can’t just be painkillers. In fact, it shouldn’t be the solution, unless absolutely necessary. Doctors also need to be trained and educated on non-addictive methods of pain relief that can free people from pain without creating a significant risk for addiction.

We should tip our hats to the medical schools that are teaching doctors how to ethically, properly, and sensibly prescribe opioid pain relievers. Again, it’s a move in the right direction. But shouldn’t schools also add courses on teaching students other means of pain relief? Wouldn’t it be sensible to teach med students techniques, alternatives, and remedies that could, in many cases, allow them to avoid prescribing painkillers altogether?

For Those Who Are Currently Addicted…

Narconon Drug-Free Withdrawal

The future is looking better, but the present is still a grim one. Millions of Americans are currently addicted to opioid pain relievers, and they need help breaking free from their habits. The solution for opioid addiction lies in seeking help for the habit through a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. If you know someone who is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, do your best to help them get into a residential treatment center as soon as possible.

The future of the opioid crisis is finally starting to look better. But that future is still a somewhat distant one, and it won’t look that great at all if a loved one dies from an overdose before that future can be realized.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS



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.