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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Addiction Medicine Fellowships Grow In Number

addiction medicineDoctors have the potential to change lives, for better or worse; the American addiction epidemic makes that abundantly clear. On the one hand, we have doctors who continue to overprescribe despite the potential for addiction and overdose. While on the other, physicians are working on the frontlines of the epidemic at treatment centers across the country.

While the crisis facing America involves the misuse of any mind-altering substance, most people recognize that prescription drug use is a major contributing factor. Since the late 1990s, primary care physicians have flooded American medicine cabinets with highly addictive painkillers and sedatives. Skyrocketing addiction and overdose rates were the result. Even though many doctors now acknowledge that they had a hand in creating this scourge, only a few are equipped to provide patients with solutions.

Fortunately, there is evidence of a new generation of medical students that see an opportunity to affect significant change. A growing number of medical institutions (more than 60) now offer addiction medicine fellowship programs, NPR reports. A young doctor can now learn evidence-based treatment approaches to help the more than 20 million people living with a substance-use disorder.

"We have got an enormous gap between the need and the doctors available to provide that treatment," Dr. Anna Lembke, medical director of addiction medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, tells NPR. She adds that "At least the medical community has begun to wake up to consider not only their role in triggering this opioid epidemic but also the ways they need to step up to solve the problem."


The Path to Addiction Medicine

Dr. Lembke points out that a career in addiction medicine is now less complicated to pursue. She highlights how psychiatry was once the only door into the field; and that it changed in 2015 when the American Board of Medical Specialties recognized addiction medicine as an official sub-specialty, according to the article. Which means physicians in other fields of medicine could get into to fellowship training programs.

Dr. Hillary Tamar says that in her fourth year of med school she was assigned to a rotation at a treatment center. Her experience changed her perception of substance use disorder, and she saw an opportunity to improve people’s lives, the article reports. Now, Dr. Tamar tells NPR she plans to do a fellowship in addiction medicine when she finishes up her family medicine residency.

"They [addicts] can go from spending all their time pursuing the acquisition of a substance to being brothers, sisters, daughters [and] fathers making breakfast for their kids again," Tamar says. "It's really powerful."

Dr. Lembke shares that she couldn’t find a medical student or resident who wanted to learn about addiction ten years ago. Today, she says that there are many med students and residents enthusiastic about the field. Dr. Lembke adds that social justice is a driving force behind many young doctors' desires to learn more about addiction.

Confronting an epidemic that takes more than 100 American lives each day requires more doctors who are skilled in evidence-based addiction treatment. Addiction medicine fellowships could slowly impact the deficit seen today.


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