Graduating Medical Students Satisfy Requirement for Life Saving Therapy

This May, medical students graduating from BUSM will be among the first in the nation to be eligible to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder upon licensure. They will have received the required training on the diagnosis and management of opioid use disorders as part of the four-year MD curriculum.

Through a collaborative process with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine (BORIM), BUSM received approval for its curriculum to qualify graduating medical students to be able to prescribe this life-saving medication for individuals suffering from opioid addiction.

“Medical students graduating from BUSM, after obtaining a Massachusetts medical license, now qualify to receive DEA-X registration, which is a special DEA number a physician uses when prescribing buprenorphine to treat patients with opioid use disorder. There is no additional training required for our graduates,” explained Daniel Alford, MD, professor of medicine and associate dean for Continuing Medical Education.

On Oct. 17, 2000, Congress passed the Drug Addiction Treatment Act, which permits qualified physicians to treat opioid use disorder with buprenorphine in office-based settings. Currently, less than two percent of primary care physicians in the country have undergone the necessary training needed to receive DEA-X registration. Physicians need eight hours of specific training from an addiction specialty organization to prescribe buprenorphine in an office-based setting.

BORIM adopted a checklist of curricular components, developed by faculty experts and students from the four Massachusetts medical schools to be used as a standard for approving medical school training. At BUSM, students receive training throughout their four years of curriculum and by taking one additional online module that includes specifics on how to start patients on buprenorphine and how to treat special populations such as adolescents, woman who are pregnant and the elderly.

According to Dr. Alford, this opportunity to train medical students not only provides a simplified pathway to obtaining a DEA-X registration, but also offers the benefit of further integrating treatment of opioid use disorder into standard medical education. “We need to equip our medical students to treat opioid use disorder as we would any other disease such as diabetes and asthma and our students have recognized this need,” he said.

Second-year student Melanie Fritz, who assisted with ensuring the BUSM curriculum satisfies the BORIM curriculum checklist, believes the existence of additional requirements to prescribe buprenorphine creates a perception in the medical field that treating addiction is not every physician’s responsibility. “It perpetuates this idea that people with addiction are a fundamentally ‘different’ type of patient, which is just another manifestation of the stigma that people with opioid use disorder face daily, in and out of the medical system. Every medical student in the country graduates with basic knowledge and skills to treat cardiovascular disease, and the same should be true for opioid use disorder,” said Ms. Fritz. “Now it is at BUSM.”