WASHINGTON - Gov. Wolf plans to urge Pennsylvania medical and dental schools to bolster their teaching on pain management and opioid addiction to help fight prescription drug abuse, he said Monday.
Speaking at a White House briefing, Wolf said he hoped Pennsylvania would follow Massachusetts, where medical and dental schools last year agreed to start requiring students to demonstrate skills aimed at preventing painkiller abuse.
"That is a really good idea that Pennsylvania can learn from," he said. "Twenty percent of all doctors in the United States come through Philadelphia. Pennsylvania can play a big role in making sure that that becomes integrated into the teaching."
Wolf spoke alongside Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Michael Botticelli, President Obama's director of national drug control policy, at a briefing on efforts to stem the surge in opioid addiction.
Pennsylvania saw 2,400 deaths from drug overdoses in 2014, Wolf said. The commonwealth ranked ninth in such deaths from 2011 to 2013, according to one study.
Wolf and Baker both said one key to fighting addiction is cutting down the number of painkiller prescriptions and the amount of such drugs in circulation. "I've never seen an issue in my life with the kind of negative momentum that this one has," said Baker, a Republican.
In November, Massachusetts' four medical schools, working with the Massachusetts Medical Society and Baker's administration, developed 10 "core competencies" that students would be required to show. Dental schools in Massachusetts announced a similar agreement this month.
The topics include considering pain management options, discussing risks with patients, evaluating addiction risk, recognizing signs of abuse, and treating addiction as a chronic condition.
Some schools already covered those topics, but the agreement was aimed at making the education more uniform.
Wolf heard about the idea at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington last weekend. He has not taken formal steps to implement the idea, but a spokesman said he had asked his staff to look into it.
"I don't think that this is something that you need to legislate," Wolf said. "Medical schools are waking up, like the rest of us, to this problem, and they want to make sure their graduates are prepared."
Staff at two Philadelphia schools said they already cover opioid addiction, but would be open to new ideas.
The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine "would look at all possible resources that would allow the institution to provide the best possible training," spokeswoman Renee Cree wrote in an email.
Anita Gupta, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist at Drexel College of Medicine, said pain management and addiction are integrated into the school's curriculum, "but I don't believe anything we're doing now is enough."
She said she welcomed the governor's interest, but added, "No one wants regulation or mandates on how to educate future doctors."
Gupta said medical students would benefit from more clinical experience with patients who suffer from chronic pain. Drexel's one-month pain rotation is optional.
Wolf also touted several other ideas already in place in Pennsylvania, including giving state police naloxone, a medicine that can counteract overdoses. Over the last year or so, more than 600 Pennsylvanians have been saved by naloxone administered by local and state emergency responders, his office said.
The state Health Department is also working to build on existing prescription guidelines and monitoring programs.