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The role of the medical school training on physician opioid prescribing practices: evidence from Ontario, Canada

de Oliveira C, Iwajomo T, Gomes T, Kurdyak P. Can J Psychiatry. 2020; June 8 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743720931240


Background — Recent research found that physicians who completed medical school training at top-ranked U.S. medical schools prescribed fewer opioids than those trained at lower ranked schools, suggesting that physician training may play a role in the opioid epidemic. We replicated this analysis to understand whether this finding holds for Ontario, Canada.

Methods — We used data on all opioid prescriptions written by Ontario physicians between 2013 and 2017 from the Narcotics Monitoring System. Using the Corporate Provider Database and ICES Physician Database, which contain medical school of training, we linked patients who filled opioid prescriptions with their respective prescribing physician. Available data on Canadian medical school rankings were obtained from Maclean’s news magazine. We used regression analysis to assess the relationship between number of opioid prescriptions and medical school ranking.

Results — Compared to the United States, average annual number of opioid prescriptions per physician was lower in Ontario (236 vs. 78). Unlike the United States, we found little evidence that physicians trained at lower ranked medical schools prescribed more than their top-ranked school counterparts after controlling for specialty and location of practice. However, primary care physicians trained at non-English-speaking foreign schools prescribed the most opioids even after excluding opioid maintenance therapy–related prescriptions.

Conclusion — The role of medical school training on opioid prescribing patterns among Ontario physicians differs from that in the United States likely due to greater homogeneity of curricula among Canadian schools. Ensuring physicians trained abroad receive additional pain management/addiction training may help address part of the opioid epidemic in Ontario.

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