Training the next generation of providers in addiction medicine

Ernest Rasyidi, Jeffery N Wilkins, Itai Danovitch
Psychiatric Clinics of North America 2012, 35 (2): 461-80
Within the United States there exists a profound discrepancy between the significant public health problem of substance abuse and the access to treatment for addicted individuals. Part of the insufficient access to treatment is a function of relatively low levels or professional experts in addiction medicine. Part of the low levels of professional addiction experts is the result of inadequate addiction medicine training of medical students and residents. This article outlines deficits in addiction medicine training among medical students and residents, yet real change in the addiction medicine training process will always be subject to the complexity of producing alterations across multiple credentialing institutions as well as the keen competition between educators for “more time” for their particular subject. Other hurdles include the broad-based issue of stigma regarding alcoholism and other substance abuse that likely impact all systems that regulate physician addiction medicine training. As noted in the discussion of psychiatry residency, even psychiatry residents manifest stigma regarding substance abusing patients. Five currently active processes may allow for fundamental change to the inertia in physician addiction medicine training while also potentially impacting stigma: 1. We appear to be at the beginning of the integration of addiction into traditional medicine through the formation of a legitimized addiction medicine subspecialty. 2. The training of primary care trainees and practitioners in the use of SBIRT is accelerating, thus creating another process of addiction integration into traditional medicine. 3. The PCMH is being established as a model for primary care 4. The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) became effective for group health care plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010; thereby, substance abuse benefits and cost are to be the same as general medical or surgical benefits. 5. The equalizer is prescription drug abuse, which is increasing recognition of addiction among populations where it was previously ignored or denied. The first three activities will create a medical office “experience” that is largely unknown but carries the power to change the perception of addiction: patients visiting their primary care physicians, who then screen them for addiction problems and give the same attention to treatment and prevention of addiction problems as they might give to treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease and other medical issues. The personal experience of the aforementioned medical scene by members of US society may also provide a very positive impact on psychiatrists, including those who specialize in addiction medicine. It is quite possible that the recognition of addiction medicine as a traditional medical subspecialty as well as the integration of addiction throughout medicine will precede any substantive change in the integration of mental health care with the rest of medicine. Yet, any integration of addiction within the entire field of medicine may open a path for mental health to follow. Psychiatrists, including those who are addiction experts, need to be a part of this new medical integration process. Being a part of new treatment models is why we proposed six future skillsets for psychiatrists who specialize in addiction. The selection of these proposed skillsets anticipates an integrated health care team utilizing some form of a patient-centered approach-three are skillsets that are already required, while the last three address new skillsets that will be helpful in working with the integrative health care team model. Whatever form the future of addiction care takes, psychiatrists who specialize in addiction medicine can provide positive and core contributions as expert addiction and mental health consultants including: 1. How does one screen for major depression and/or an anxiety disorder and also determine a diagnosis? 2. In prescribing, what constitutes legitimate follow-up of patients on antidepressants and antianxiety agents, including how to avoid additional substance abuse problems when prescribing sedative-hypnotics? 3. When and how should patients be referred to a psychiatrist? Finally, it is important to note that any of the potential changes described in this article need to influence only 10% of the approximately 17 million current heavy drinkers to seek treatment to equal the approximately 1.7 million heavy drinkers who are now in treatment, let alone any of the approximately 50 million current at-risk drinkers, virtually none of whom are in treatment. Among other social changes that will alter the future of addiction treatment, the integration of addiction into traditional medicine may go a long way in altering the current ratios of who seeks treatment and is willing to participate in treatment.

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