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Baker-Polito partner with dental schools to minimize prescription drug misuse

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new initiative Thursday that aims to combat the opioid crisis by incorporating opioid abuse education in dental schools. PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new initiative Thursday that aims to combat the opioid crisis by incorporating opioid abuse education in dental schools. PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced Thursday a set of dental education core competencies that will help prevent and manage prescription drug misuse. The proposed dental education core competencies are the first in the nation, according to a Thursday press release.

The Baker-Polito Administration will work alongside the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and Massachusetts Dental Society to ensure that undergraduate and graduate dental students of the commonwealth learn how to prevent prescription drug misuse, according to the release.

Baker said the core competencies will educate students and aid in the commonwealth’s fight against opioid abuse.

“Educating our dental providers on prescribing practices for opioids is a critical step toward preventing drug misuse as we continue to combat this public health crisis,” Baker said in the release. “We are thrilled to stand with the Commonwealth’s dental schools and the Massachusetts Dental Society to introduce our second set of core competencies that are bound to educate our students and help curb this epidemic.”

Raymond Martin, president-elect for the Massachusetts Dental Society, said in the release that it is important that proper pain management and substance abuse are distinguishable.

“The Massachusetts Dental Society supports efforts to balance proper pain management with patient safety,” Martin said in the release. “Therefore, we applaud the Governor in his initiative to develop core competencies to address the opioid crisis. This effort caused an inter-professional collaboration to develop core competencies on opioid prescribing to deal with potential prescription drug misuse.”

Ronald Kulich is a professor at Tufts University who chaired the committee that partnered the Tufts Dental School with the Baker-Polito Administration. Kulich said dentists are the second highest prescriber of opiates behind primary care doctors.

“[Dentists] are high prescribers, not for chronic opiates but for short-acting opiates for individuals who have third molar extractions or when they have their wisdom teeth out,” Kulich said. “[This is] usually the first exposure to young adults, adolescents, for opiates. And in almost all those cases, the prescription of opiates is really appropriate. The issue is how much is written and whether patients are adequately screened or not.”

Kulich said dentists are put in a unique place when it comes to prescribing medication because dentists and patients tend to have a close provider-patient bond.

“The neat thing about seeing a dentist is that you can see a dentist with higher frequency than a primary care [doctor], and often you get to know them on a close basis,” Kulich said. “So dentists are in a unique position to assess what is going on and then get on the phone and talk to the primary care doctor on specific issues, risk factors [and] what not.”

Kulich said while it may seem like there has been an increase in prescription drug misuse in recent years, society has dealt with this same problem for generations.

“[Drug misuse] has been around,” Kulich said. “This [argument] really dates back a couple hundred years over opiates. So this goes up and down, up and down and people in the 1800s were having the exact same argument we are having today.”

Several residents were conflicted on the seriousness of the substance abuse problem that plagues the City of Boston.

Paula Gomez, 21, of Brighton, said she has personally lost friends to substance abuse.

“I think that [substance abuse] is a really big problem,” she said. “I’ve lost a few friends in Boston to things such as heroin, so the more attention it gets, the better.”

Dani Bing, 42, of Dorchester, said she was pleased to hear that the solutions from public officials involve those who are actually prescribing medications.

“Opioids are a big problem here,” she said. “I think it’s good that they’re working with schools to make sure it’s something everyone understands.”

Yvonne Cancino, 40, of the North End, said she believes there needs to be more regulation on drug distribution.


“I wish [there was] more regulation on what doctors can distribute and how often they can distribute painkillers,” she said. “I think that is one of the most profound issues we have right now for regulations.”

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