As he waits on the Legislature to compromise over opioid abuse prevention strategies, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday detailed an agreement reached with the deans of the state's three dental medicine schools to introduce training for opioid abuse prevention and management into their core curriculums.
The governor, who has reached similar agreements with the heads of the state's medical schools over improved training of future physicians to deal with pain management and substance abuse, continues to take steps on his own to chip away at the substance abuse crisis and the proliferation of addictive opioids.
Baker betrayed little frustration with the pace of action in the Legislature, despite calling it "critically important" for the House and Senate negotiators to deliver a bill to his desk.
"I know that they are trading proposals. I know that it's an active conversation that's going on, and my hope is that it will be able to land in a place that works for both the House and the Senate sooner rather than later. I would be more concerned about this if there wasn't any back and forth going on with respect to the issue, but there is," Baker said.
Baker met privately before holding a press conference with representatives from the Harvard, Tufts University and Boston University Schools of Dental Medicine, as well as Massachusetts Dental Society President-elect Raymond Martin, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel.
"The fact is that over 80 percent of those prescriptions which are diverted or misused comes from prescriptions written by physicians an dentists," said Dr. David Keith, a Massachusetts General Hospital oral surgeon who is also on the faculty at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
Keith called it a "unique opportunity" for the dental schools and the MDA to "come together to educate our dentists and advanced dental trainees in the correct prescribing of opioids," including alternative pain management techniques and proper referral practices to other disciplines.
While the agreement will directly impact the 1,800 undergraduates and 550 graduate students studying dental medicine in Massachusetts, Sudders said the group had also discussed how to "teach up" to practicing dentists who may have become set in their prescribing practices.
Martin said dentists currently take part in continuing education programs designed for general medical professionals, including physicians, but will be working to tailor programs more specifically to dentistry and oral pain detection and management.
Baker said his administration has fully implemented 21 recommendations from his opioid task force, and is in the process of implementing 24 more. The governor said he has also invested or proposed more than $250 million in new funding for treatment and prevention, started a bulk Narcan purchasing program, launched a media campaign to raise awareness and opened the fifth recovery high school in Worcester.
Sudders said an overhaul of the prescription monitoring program to make the database easier for doctors to access and use when prescribing opioids should also be ready by summer.
A House and Senate conference committee has been negotiating a comprehensive substance abuse prevention bill since Jan. 20, reaching quick compromise on one piece to stop the civil commitment of women with drug abuse problems to a Framingham prison, and instead refer them to a hospital treatment setting.
Legislation to address the deadly opioid crisis was flagged as a priority of Republicans and Democrats at the outset of the 2015-2016 session. The Senate passed its bill on Oct. 1, 2015, Baker filed his proposal in October 2015 and the House approved its bill in January 2016.