Addiction Medicine Subspecialty Poised to Treat Substance Use Disorders

On March 15, 2018

By Timothy K. Brennan, MD, MPH, Vice President of Academic and Medical Affairs at the Addiction Medicine Foundation 

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) welcomed Addiction Medicine as the newest subspecialty in October 2015. Entering the ABMS fold as a subspecialty sponsored by the American Board of Preventive Medicine, Addiction Medicine now has a seat at the table within the House of Medicine. With this seat comes new opportunities, expectations, and challenges. As an Addiction Medicine physician, I can tell you that my peers and I are up to the task – in fact, we have been for more than 60 years. Our colleagues and our nation are now appreciating the incredible toll addiction takes on our patients and communities as well as on public health and health care expenditures.

It is fitting that this field is multi-specialty because physicians from every specialty are needed to advance prevention and treat addiction. Because substance use disorders and addiction impact every American demographic, physicians of every specialty working in every health care setting are needed. In particular, pediatricians, obstetricians, and family physicians encounter this disease daily, even as it masquerades as other, secondary diagnoses. Physicians and the public now have access to a gold standard ABMS board credential, signifying that the medical profession is responding to addiction with the same vigor applied to other diseases.

Recognition by ABMS brings credibility to the subspecialty. We now find ourselves listed alongside other established medical fields, which has obvious importance in attracting top-tier physicians to this work. Further, our fellowship training programs can now proceed with accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which will allow many of our 52 programs to gain access to graduate medical education funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Veterans Affairs, and other sources.

ABMS recognition benefits patients as well as physicians; quality patient care is the goal of every physician. Patients receive the highest standard of care when their primary physicians collaborate with appropriate specialists and subspecialists. As the Addiction Medicine workforce grows, Addiction Medicine physicians will be visible, reliable, and available champions at their institutions. Just as patients or their primary physicians seek out a cardiologist for severe cardiac disease, so too will Addiction Medicine physicians be called upon for consultation and management of patients with complicated substance use disorders. With Addiction Medicine now a recognized field, patients will soon have appropriate prevention, early intervention, and treatment services covered by health insurance.

As America confronts the ongoing opioid crisis, Addition Medicine physicians are here to help in a variety of capacities. We are clinical experts on the frontlines, educators in medical schools and residencies, and team members in research groups. Moreover, we are change agents in health systems and communities as well as in policy and legislative bodies advocating for evidence-based care for all patients. The timing of ABMS recognition for Addiction Medicine could not have come at a better moment. We are happy to be here, and we are ready to work.

© 2018, American Board of Medical Specialties. All rights reserved.

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