Communities in northeast Ohio are affected daily by the rising incidence of opioid overdoses. The Cuyahoga Medical Examiner’s Office reported at least 61 heroin- or fentanyl-related deaths in a single month earlier this year. The alarming death rate brings the gravity of the situation home to physicians in the area.

“There’s no more playing around with this,” said Jason Jerry, MD, until recently an addiction psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center. Dr. Jerry, now with FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, N.C., is a recognized leader in efforts to curb opioid abuse and misuse, and he and his colleagues use medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help patients with substance-use disorders through recovery. They have cared for patients with opioid substance issues since the mid-1990s.

Dr. Jerry told AMA Wire® that it is important for medical students and residents to think about the state of the opioid crisis and consider joining the specialty of addiction medicine “because there is no end in sight. … We’re trying to teach the next wave so they can have an impact going forward.”

To that end, Dr. Jerry and other physicians at the center were joined on their rounds by medical residents, who rotate on the center’s inpatient detox unit. He served as a mentor to one resident each year, in addition to teaching medical students interested in addiction medicine.

Dr. Jerry offers this advice based on what he taught those who rounded with him every day in the detox unit. It includes:

  • Think twice about putting patients on opioids for chronic pain.
  • Minimize the prescriptions you write when you do need to write them for acute situations like postoperative care.
  • Consider alternatives. After arthroscopic knee surgery, for instance, why prescribe an opioid when ibuprofen works just fine and has an anti-inflammatory effect that opioids don’t have?
  • Don’t write a one-month prescription. Write for just a week, maybe two.
Dr. Raymond Oenbrink