Group hopes to build addiction workforce by increasing fellowships

Group hopes to build addiction workforce by increasing fellowships

Three medical organizations are urging health care practices of all spectrums to add an addiction fellowship to their mix to increase the number of addiction specialists across the country.

The American College of Academic Addiction Medicine, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy are working together to urge practices, hospitals, and communities to offer fellowships in addiction medicine as a way to treat substance use disorder.

In an open letter, the group said that while health care professionals will continue to see those with substance use disorder in their care, they likely won’t be treated for the substance use disorder once their initial symptoms are treated.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when people around the world are urged to stay at home, individuals suffering from substance use disorder (SUD) continue to experience other life and death emergencies,” the letter said. “They present with overdose, sepsis from abscesses or infections; they have seizures from withdrawal, and psychosis and suicide attempts from active use of drugs. There is not a hospital in America or a medical specialty that is not touched by patients who suffer from SUD. Patients admitted to a hospital will receive state of the art medical care by primary care doctors, hospitalists, intensivists, surgeons, cardiologists, psychiatrists, and infectious disease physicians. But will anyone address the underlying disease of addiction?”

Citing statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the group said that over 21 million Americans had a substance use disorder diagnosis in 2018, but that only 11 percent of them received treatment. Additionally, the group said there are only 2,600 physicians certified in the multi-specialty subspecialty of addiction medicine at the level required by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

“ACAAM asserts that a sufficient workforce of trained and certified addiction physicians is needed to address our Nation’s chronic medical and public health problem of SUD, and estimates that a workforce of 9,500 physicians is needed,” the letter said. “Dr. Karen Drexler, Medical Director of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP), states that there are 54 ACGME-accredited Addiction Psychiatry fellowship programs and 1,202 currently board-certified addiction psychiatrists in the workforce.”

Additionally, the group said that America spends $521 billion in costs related to SUD. For every $1 spent on addiction treatment, the United States could save $7. And for each $1 spent on prevention, the American public could save $18.

Practices like primary care specialties, psychiatry, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedics, and others could benefit from providing fellowships through a federal grant program. The Health Resources and Services Administration will provide more than $20 million in grants for addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry fellowship programs across the country.

Students who graduate from the fellowships would be eligible to receive additional financial support through HRSA’s National Health Service Corps SUD Loan Repayment program when they serve in health professional shortage areas.