Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Dean Paula Crone, DO, talked about the pivotal role osteopathic physicians and education will play in battling opioid abuse at the “Medicine Responds to Addiction II” Symposium at the White House Oct. 25, 2016.

The symposium brought together federal partners and national leaders from medical schools, residency programs and fellowship programs to advance addiction medicine education and training, and to explore Centers of Excellence in Addiction Medicine models.

President Obama announced in March 2016 that more than 60 medical schools agreed to make pain relief a major part of their curriculum, to escalate the fight against the prescription opioid abuse and heroin epidemic.

Understanding, diagnosing and treating the complex issues surrounding opioid use and addiction will require a longitudinal, interdisciplinary educational approach and must span from undergraduate medical education to graduate medical education and throughout the lifelong commitment to learning that characterizes a career in the health professions, Crone said.

“Addiction medicine should not be a footnote in our students’ education, but should be integrated throughout — one which provides a foundation, knowledge and skills, and incorporates screening, assessment, intervention and referral skills that our students need to build upon as they move through their education, ultimately enabling them to be better equipped to provide the substance abuse services needed as they enter practice,” Crone said.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) and its Oregon campus, COMP-Northwest, are implementing changes so that addiction medicine is integrated throughout the four years of curriculum, Crone said. Each graduate will be trained and assessed using core competencies and professional activities that are aligned with institutional program learning outcomes.

Substance abuse disorders are most often treated on the front lines by primary care providers, and osteopathic physicians are vital members of this workforce, Crone said. Fifty-six percent of osteopathic physicians go into primary care specialties and account for almost 18 percent of the primary care workforce. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) make up 11 percent of all U.S. physicians, and are responsible for 16 percent of patient visits in communities with populations less than 2,500. Overall, 40 percent of all physicians located in medically underserved areas, or who treat medically underserved, populations are osteopathic physicians.

“This physician workforce brings a holistic care approach that emphasizes the whole person in the context of family and community,” Crone said. “This allows us to be positioned in the primary care workforce in underserved communities and play a significant role in the future to this problem. Our training programs are incorporating addiction medicine into our curriculum, and the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners defines diagnosing and treatment skills in addiction medicine as a required competence in their document ‘Fundamental Osteopathic Medical Competency Domains.’

“The workforce is poised to help treat the opioid epidemic we are faced with, working towards prevention by using all we have at our disposal: osteopathic philosophy, OMT (Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment) for pain management, and a workforce that has an affinity toward primary care in underserved communities and training to recognize substance abuse issues and provide appropriate interventions using a team-based interprofessional approach to optimize patient care,” Crone added. “I strongly believe education of our future workforce is one of the crucial keys to the solution for this staggering problem.”