Addiction Medicine Under-Emphasized In Most Medical Schools
The nation is facing what is possibly the worst drug epidemic of all-time, largely fueled by prescription painkillers and heroin. The epidemic is blamed on the prescription drug and medical industry, but unfortunately, physicians may be ill-prepared to help.
According to a 2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, medical schools do not dedicate much time to teaching addiction medicine. In fact, it may only consist of a a few hours over the course of 4 years. But by then, people were already overdosing on opioids by the thousands.
Traditionally. addiction medicine hasn’t always been given the seriousness it deserves. It’s partly because doctors, like many professionals, used to consider addiction a moral dilemma or a personal vice. It has only been in recent years that the disease model of addiction has gained popularity.
And still, many of those doctors who specialize in addition are doubtful that the medical model offers a realistic, effective approach to substance abuse. But those who believe that medical treatment for addiction can be efficacious advocate for addiction’s place in medical education.
You see, prior to the mid-1990s and the opioid boom, addiction wasn’t something that general physicians had to deal with often. Doctors are now the drug dealers, so to speak. This means that not only must they deal with patient addiction, they also need to be educated on prevention – and how to help treat addiction as it occurs.
Other challenges to getting doctors into the addiction field is low insurance reimbursement rates. Also, dealing with addicted patients is tough – especially when you are the one contributing to the addiction.
And in all fairness, Big Pharma has been courting doctors for years about prescription painkillers – even to the point of claiming that they were not addictive. It must be confusing.
What’s Being Done
Fortunately, at least one school is taking the lead in increasing education on addition medicine – Stanford University School of Medicine. And the change has been instigated by faculty.
Instead of addition being confined to a side psychiatry series, it will be offered as an independent unit, relevant to future physicians of any specialty. Training will also continue into clinical practice.
In addition to Standford’s move toward addiction education, in March of this year, the American Board of Medical Specialties officially recognized addiction medicine as a subspecialty. Additionally, a report from the California Health Care Foundation stated that medical school training for addiction was inadequate. It therefore remains a major challenge in treating opioid addiction.
Furthermore, the White House has been putting pressure on schools to increase instruction on opioid addiction.
I find it incredible that the same doctors who are prescribing drugs have obtained little education on their dangers, or how to deal with painkiller addiction as it arises. There seems to be a sea change occurring, however. In the future, I would expect to see more schools following Standford’s lead.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology