Opioid crisis can’t be tackled without better pain management training for doctors

Many primary care practitioners are not adequately trained in pain management since learning about it is not required in medical school or during residency, a physician writes.

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The War on Drugs has lasted for more than half a century, and it has not worked, leading some people to say something else - like legalizing drugs - should be tried.

Oxycodone pills. Doctors need better training in pain management to help fight the opioid addiction crisis, a doctor writes.


The United States consists of a little over 4% of the world’s population but consumes 80% of the world’s opioids. Those statistics aren’t expected to let up any time soon.

Here in Illinois, there was a nearly 36% increase in opioid-related deaths between 2019 and 2021.

Not many of the millions of Americans who rely on such drugs to deal with their chronic pain end up addicted, but some can.

Most doctors are aware that rest and medication can adequately mitigate pain caused by tissue damage from injuries, such as a broken bone or sprained ankle. But most medical professionals don’t know that rest and medication can only exacerbate chronic pain. Isolation, fear, grief and loss can also worsen pain.

Many primary care practitioners are not adequately trained in pain management, since learning about it is not required in medical school or during residency. As a result, many doctors end up being afraid to treat pain and may even try to dismiss patients’ complaints, not because they are rude, but out of fear. Understandably so. There is widespread concern of the possibility of patients getting addicted to the opioids used to treat their chronic pain.

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There are so many evidence-based methods to treat pain without drugs, like physical and cognitive behavioral therapy, but there are few doctors who specialize in pain medicine and pain management. In 2021, only 6,240 active physicians were in those fields, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. There are even fewer pain physicians like me who also treat children.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) does not mandate pain education, but its members learn about prescribing and monitoring opioids. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which accredits U.S. medical schools, also lacks dedicated pain education.

Veterinary students receive five times more pain education than physicians, which means your pet is receiving better pain care than you. This needs to change if we want medical professionals to stop relying on medication-only strategies.

The call for dedicated pain education is even louder now. This message can be amplified by others who aren’t in the medical field, as LCME or ACGME have seats reserved for the general public.

More pain education can alleviate chronic pain. As a result, many Americans won’t have to suffer in silence anymore.

Elisha Peterson, MD, MEd, FAAP, FASA, Chicago Heights

Give the private sector incentives to hire youth

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson wants to put teenagers to work. Who wouldn’t be in favor of such an idea? It’s a terrific plan. Unfortunately, the mayor’s plan has a serious flaw — it is dependent on the city and its taxpayers to fund these jobs.

Wouldn’t a better approach be to incentivize the private sector to hire teens? Perhaps offering tax breaks to those companies who hire Chicago teenagers (as opposed to punishing companies with tax increases).

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, and it lifts the added burden from Chicago taxpayers who would have had to pay for the jobs program.

Tony LaMantia, Logan Square

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