Primary care doctor teaches other physicians safe opioid prescribing practices

He calls himself an educator of sorts for doctors.

Dr. Robert Rich teaches sessions on safe opioid prescribing, with his peers as his students.

"It's a responsibility that I take very seriously and it's a desire to help other practices learn and do the right thing," Rich said.

Rich is the medical director for Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear, one of 14 state Medicaid offices. One of the office's responsibilities, Rich said, is to help manage the opioid crisis.

That's why, he said, five years ago he started teaching these classes. He also said a personal desire drew him to teach.

Rich is a primary care doctor in Bladen County where he said he has seen the opioid crisis firsthand, and he wanted to do a better job helping the people out there.

Even though the opioid crisis has escalated since Rich started the sessions five years ago, he said the number of doctors at the classes has remained steady.

"Many of the providers have the desire to try to do the right thing because they see the opioid crisis in the office setting and it really takes a lot of time and effort to properly do the right thing so again, they're wanting to do the right thing," he said.

In his presentations, Rich goes over safe prescribing, patient screenings, the use of alternative medicines and tapering off and discontinuing opioid therapy, among other topics.

A state bill that went into effect in July mandates any provider prescribing controlled substances, including opioids, must attend three hours of controlled substance-related education classes every three years.

According to the North Carolina Medical Board, this bill supports the board's goal of "ensuring that licensees who prescribe controlled substances, particularly opioids, do so in a manner that is safe, appropriate and consistent with current standards of care."

Rich said it's not the mandate, but doctors' oaths to save lives that should truly lead to change.

"No provider wants to be involved with a patient who has an overdose or who has an adverse event," Rich said. "Providers, the ones that come to our events, the ones that we work with, they all have a dedication to try to do the right thing."

Rich said teaching these classes is his small way of helping with the nationwide opioid epidemic.

"If I can get one provider to adopt best prescribing practices and reduce or safely, taper or again, refer for additional care, then I feel like I've accomplished my goal, realizing that it will be an ongoing effort for many years," Rich said.

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