Substance abuse and addiction comprise the nation’s largest preventable health problem, accounting for 25 percent of all deaths according to the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM). Compounding this situation is the fact that there just aren’t enough doctors qualified to treat the expanding needs.

Answering demand

That is about to change. Late last year, the ABPM and The Addiction Medicine Foundation announced a step forward in the integration of the field of Addiction Medicine into routine medical practice. ABPM will offer more than 850,000 physicians who are currently certified by a Member Board of the American Board of the Medical Specialties (ABMS) the opportunity to become certified in the relatively new subspecialty of Addiction Medicine, which was recognized as a subspecialty by the ABMS in 2015, thus clearing the way for the streamlined certification.

“The advances in physician certification and training in Addiction Medicine set the stage to engage all of medicine as strong partners in addressing this critical public health issue,” says Dr. Marie Krousel-Wood, ABPM President. Doctors practicing in myriad medical fields, from obstetricians to family medicine, can also become certified in addiction medicine within a five-year window by taking a test versus a lengthy fellowship.

“Only 10 percent of the 23 million Americans aged 12 or older, who need treatment for substance disorders, actually receive it.”

Verifying quality

“It opens the door for many interesting in addiction medicine who have not had a pathway to make it part of their practice,” explains Dr. Yngvild Olsen, who serves as the Chair of the Public Policy Committee for the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Given the current epidemic, with need a multi-pronged approach and all hands on deck.”

Getting those in need to get treatment is moving to the front burner. Statistics reported by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration show only 10 percent of the 23 million Americans aged 12 or older, who need treatment for substance disorders, actually receive it. 

Any number of reasons may hamstring the process, from the stigma of mental health to concern about payment, explains Marvin Ventrell, executive director for the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), an organization consisting of 600 treatment facilities.

His checklist of what to look for in a facility includes verifying that it is licensed, accredited and transparent. The website should provide basic information, such as how long it is has been in business, where it is headquartered — there should be a physical location — and what insurance plans are accepted. Outcomes are also important to ask about. Up until now those have been somehow hard to gauge. However, the NAATP will release outcome data on its members later this year.