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Medical schools fall short on addiction education

Students in a library
Photo: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Medical schools don’t spend much time teaching students how to recognize and respond to patients suffering from addiction — and that shortcoming is becoming more glaring in light of the opioid crisis.

The big picture: Only about 15 medical schools in the U.S. cover addiction in a comprehensive way that goes beyond opioid-specific education, and there are only 52 fellowships in addiction medicine, according to a New York Times feature on Boston University’s more thorough, integrated program.

  • The field isn’t bigger, in part, because it’s not very lucrative: Insurance already reimburses mental health poorly, and addiction treatment is “an afterthought” even within mental health, per NYT.
  • It also requires unique skills. Medical students need to learn how to delicately ask about the drugs a patient might be taking, without sounding accusatory or minimizing patients’ actual pain.

The bottom line: Trying to fight the opioid epidemic without better medical training is “like trying to fight World War II with only the Coast Guard,” one doctor told NYT.

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