Changes to IU School of Medicine curriculum leading fight against opioid abuse epidemic

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(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) April 11, 2016 -- The largest medical school in the nation is changing its education to help put a stop to the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.

The effort at the IU School of Medicine is being spearheaded by Indianapolis doctor Palmer Mackie.

He runs the Eskenazi Integrative Pain Clinic and is now focusing on teaching his colleagues how to best fix what he believes they were responsible for starting.

“Through our prescribing practices, we started a cascade of events that led to many people being dependent and addicted on the opioids and then their lives spiraled out of control,” Dr. Mackie says.

Dr. Mackie is now pushing his message of “restraint” to the medical community.

It’s not a universally popular message. Dr. Mackie says he’s received criticism and even death threats from patients and other physicians. He says he thinks it’s hard for some to accept that even though they once though they were helping their patients, they inadvertently hurt whole communities.

“Those physicians were told by credentialing abstemious, by pain advocacy groups, by experts, that the only reason their patients are suffering is because we're not using enough morphine,” Dr. Mackie says. “And that turns out to be, frankly, not true."

Dr. Mackie met with Senator Joe Donnelly and representative Susan Brooks Monday morning to discuss how he's working to change the mindset for doctors by teaching that pain management doesn’t always mean strong, addictive painkillers.

If his approach was replicated at medical schools and conferences across the nation, Dr. Mackie says that would go a long way toward putting a dent in the epidemic. But he does believe help from lawmakers is needed to attack the problem from all angles.

Monday, Congresswoman Brooks announced some legislation could be coming soon to address the issue. As early as next week, work begin in the house on several different bills that address the issue, including Brooks’ bill which would create a task force to decide and teach pain medication prescription best practices, similar to the way Dr. Mackie is already doing on his own. Another bill would give doctors access to records across state lines, so they can see if other doctors are prescribing their patients medication too.

Comprehensive legislation has already passed in the Senate.

Without a nationwide registry and changes to how doctors address who needs pain medication, Dr. Mackie says the common "pills to needles" path of addiction is here to stay.

"It isn't just the patients,” Dr. Mackie says,. “We physicians need to monitor ourselves better in terms of our health and our own practices.”