PAEA’s Response to the Opioid Epidemic

Since the opioid epidemic was first declared as a public health emergency by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October 2017, PAEA has implemented four significant federally funded initiatives intended to bolster PA education’s response to the crisis:

Federal investments in these initiatives, totaling nearly $1 million, represent the commitment of PAEA and PA programs to ensuring that graduates are fully prepared to provide high-quality care for those suffering from substance use disorders.

MAT Waiver Training Initiative

Illustration of a medical professional showing medication to another.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — the use of medications and behavioral interventions to treat patients suffering from substance use disorder — is widely regarded as the gold standard for the treatment of opioid dependence among experts in addiction medicine. Despite its demonstrated effectiveness, the demand for MAT outpaces the supply of MAT providers in almost all states. To address national MAT provider shortages in pursuit of the Association’s vision of Health for All, PAEA partnered with the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry on a grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) known as the State Targeted Response Technical Assistance Consortium (STR-TA). The grant, dedicated to building an Opioid Response Network with professional organizations from around the country, allowed PAEA to launch the MAT Waiver Training Initiative in 2018.

From 2018–2020, PAEA’s MAT Waiver Training Initiative staff have worked to achieve the goal of all PA programs adopting a requirement that students complete X-waiver training prior to graduation. By completing 24 hours of training, PA graduates can apply for the X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder in office-based settings as soon as they enter practice. With this expertise and capacity, PAs can play a vital role in increasing access to this life-saving treatment in their communities.

At the start of the initiative in 2018, only 3 percent of all PA programs required student MAT training. By the end of the MAT project, more than 60 percent of all PA programs will offer or require student MAT training. This outcome demonstrates both the responsiveness of PA education to emerging public health crises and the ability of PA programs to empower the future generation of MAT providers. To learn more about the MAT Waiver Training Initiative and MAT training for PAs and PA students, visit PAEA’s MAT Waiver Training Initiative resource page.


Building on the success of the MAT Waiver Training Initiative, PAEA received a three-year sub-award through the Providers Clinical Support System (PCSS) to conduct annual in-person MAT waiver training sessions targeted to faculty, preceptors, and other stakeholders. In addition, PAEA will also promote the availability of PCSS’ free educational trainings (which are eligible for CME/CE credits) to our member programs.

If you are interested in participating in one of our annual MAT waiver training sessions or in any upcoming CME/CE credit opportunities through PCSS, please look for future email communications and announcements in PAEA’s weekly newsletter, the Networker. If you would like to learn more about the prevention, identification, and treatment of substance use disorders, please visit the PCSS website.


While expanding the number of MAT providers is a critical component of the larger strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, PAEA also recognizes the importance of expanded high-quality substance use disorder education for PA students. To help meet this aim, PAEA was awarded $476,000 over two years by SAMHSA in 2019 through the agency’s Expansion of Practitioner Education (PRAC-ED) grant to administer the PRAC-ED-PA project.

From 2019–2021, PAEA collaborated with the faculty of 10 pilot PA programs on the PRAC-ED-PA project to develop a standardized substance use disorder curriculum, which was administered and evaluated prior to its expansion to an additional 10 programs in the second year of the project. Ultimately, this resulted in the finalized PRAC-ED-PA curricular content being available to all PA programs at the conclusion of the project.

By enhancing and improving existing substance use disorder curriculum for PA students through PRAC-ED-PA, PA students will be better prepared to prevent, identify, and treat highly prevalent substance use disorders upon entering practice. This is yet another example of PA education’s vital role in preparing a PA workforce that is well-equipped to meet the current and growing needs of patients nationwide.

PAEA – NEJM Knowledge+ Pain Management and Opioids Partnership

PAEA has partnered with NEJM Knowledge+ to bring their Pain Management and Opioids CME course to PA faculty and clinical preceptors. The course was developed under the Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS).

REMS and NEJM Knowledge+ utilize high-quality CME products to help address the opioid crisis, and — because the program is funded by an unrestricted educational grant from the Opioid Analgesic REMS Program Companies (RPC) — it is offered at no cost to clinicians and is eligible for 10 hours of Category 1 CME.

Throughout 2021, PAEA and NEJM Knowledge+ developed informational resources including Networker articles and notices in the Journal of Physician Assistant Education, among other initiatives, to communicate the availability of this important offering to interested faculty and preceptors.