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Dalhousie Medical School launches new opioid‑prescribing education programs

Posted by Media Centre on May 11, 2017 in News

(Halifax) - As physicians across Canada familiarize themselves with new national guidelines for prescribing opioids—published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal this week—Dalhousie Medical School is preparing to launch new opioid-prescribing education programs. These include a new three-tiered program for residents in all 55 of its postgraduate medical education programs, set to launch this July, and an online continuing professional development course for practicing physicians.

“We’ve seen steep increases in opioid prescriptions and opioid-related deaths in the past decade, in North America, and Dalhousie Medical School is determined to play a lead role in reversing this trend,” says Dean of Medicine, Dr. David Anderson. “Our goal is to ensure that all physicians and learners understand the complexities of safe prescribing and vigilant monitoring of opioids, in order to provide compassionate care that safeguards the wellbeing of every patient.”

According to the new opioid-prescribing guidelines, Canadians are the second-highest per capita users of opioids in the world—and the highest when measured on the basis of morphine equivalents (800 morphine equivalents per capita in 2011).

In 2016, Dr. Anderson tasked senior administrators at all levels of medical education—from the MD and residency programs through to continuing professional development—with evaluating the current programming and identifying strategies for strengthening it.

The new programs for residents and physicians build on a solid foundation of training that starts in the first year of the MD program, and an existing continuing professional development program called “The Prescribing Course: Safe Opioid Prescribing for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain,” developed three years ago by two faculty experts in pain and addiction, Drs. John Fraser and Peter MacDougall.

Dr. Fraser and MacDougall are readying themselves to conduct the first bilingual version of The Prescribing Course this Saturday, May 13, in Moncton, N.B.

They’ve taught the course across the Atlantic Provinces more than 20 times so far—to mixed groups of residents, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dentists and paramedics—in partnership with Dalhousie’s Department of Family Medicine and health authorities and workers’ compensation boards in the region.

In keeping with the new Canadian guidelines, Dr. Fraser says it is essential to assess the patient’s risk of developing an addiction when considering opioids.

“If a patient has a personal or family history of addiction, an active mental illness, or has experienced childhood trauma, they are five to six times more likely to develop an addiction to a prescribed opioid than someone who lacks these risk factors,” says Dr. Fraser, an assistant professor in Dalhousie’s departments of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, and Anesthesia, Pain Management & Perioperative Medicine. “Doctors need to define the degree of risk and tailor a treatment plan based on that risk.”

The online modules for residents launching this July will be mandatory for all residents. These will provide a baseline for all residents early in their residencies, followed by more intensive education on opioid prescribing for acute pain, and a third level of in-depth training for those whose practice will involve treating chronic pain.

Practicing physicians in Atlantic Canada—and beyond—will soon have convenient access to a comprehensive online course through Dalhousie Medical School’s continuing professional development (CPD) programming. The course will be delivered through a series of webinars and online modules, supported by videos and chat rooms, over a number of months so participants have time to take in the new material, reflect on their practice, make adjustments, then come back to the training to consolidate their learning.

For more information on this program, visit:    


Media Contact:

Nicole LeBlanc
Project and Events Coordinator
Dean’s Office, Faculty of Medicine
1 (902) 494-4247
1 (902) 209-6026




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