Opinion: Require training for addiction doctors

Timothy Gammons

Recently installed as the president of the Michigan chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, I was invited to Washington, D.C. to address the opioid crisis with Michigan’s elected officials and/or their legislative assistants.

Legislation has passed (with more to come) pouring billions of federal dollars into the treatment of mental health and addiction. Funding is important, but intelligent funding is more important.

Advocates for HIV/AIDS patients say health insurers are putting patients at risk of discontinuing vital treatments by no longer crediting drug companies' discounts toward deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, prolonging the time each year that insurers fully fund the drugs.

We must educate our physicians and other health care professionals appropriately. Like any other medical specialty, well-established guidelines and standards of care exist in addiction medicine. Unlike any other medical specialty, however, many physicians that claim to treat addiction do not adhere to these well established standards. And we wonder why the opioid crisis continues to worsen?

Physicians are allowed to treat addiction (and reimbursed to do so) with little exposure to the well-established guidelines of addiction medicine. Adherence to standards of care is encouraged but not required. Physicians can prescribe drugs used to treat opioid addiction upon completion of an eight-hour online course. Formal and standardized training to address complicated nuances of our challenging medical specialty is not a requirement. As a result, difficult patients often receive substandard care as their doctors may not have been trained to competently address complex needs.

Intelligent funding means passing legislation that requires standardized education that embodies Addiction Medicine’s established guidelines. Then require doctors treating addiction to participate. A pilot would never be issued a license to fly without being trained to navigate turbulence. Patients deserve treatment by competent physicians appropriately trained to navigate the challenges of treatment.

I’m pleased to report our state representatives in Washington were very receptive to the above ideas. There are currently bills in the House and Senate that will expand Addiction Medicine education and require adherence to standardized guidelines. With the support of Michigan’s elected officials it is my hope that these bills become law. Patients deserve valuable treatment, and we all deserve intelligent use of taxpayer dollars.

Timothy Gammons is president of the Michigan chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.