Medical Doctors and Lack of Addiction Education

by | May 23, 2017 | Recovery | 0 comments

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What your primary care physician doesn’t know about addiction could be extremely detrimental to an addict’s health and well being. When it comes to knowing the signs of addiction and treating it, doctors really do not get that much addiction education. Many doctors simply lack a basic understanding of how the drugs they prescribe can lead to abuse and addiction. This is especially disturbing because physicians in the US are among the top prescribers of opioid pain medication. And it is a fact that addiction to these medications is contributing to the current opioid epidemic.

There has not been a real change in the way doctors prescribe prescription opioid medications. They are still widely prescribed. This is directly linked to the number of people dying from overdoses. Simply put, many doctors do not safely prescribe opioid medications because of the lack of addiction education among doctors. Additionally, many physicians are not addressing the core issues of the addiction. This lack of dual-diagnosis treatment is a huge factor in addicts’ relapses.

Generally speaking, if a doctor knew about the risks of opioid addiction, they would be more careful in prescribing it. If their patient showed signs of addiction, they probably would not be so quick to give them prescription opioids. And that is assuming that they are educated about opioid abuse and the signs of addiction. Doctors who have no clue are blindly prescribing these addictive painkillers. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN, 75% of the world’s opioid prescription drugs are prescribed and taken here in the US. And this is in a country that makes up less than 5% of the world’s population.

The Negative Effects of Doctors’ Lack of Addiction Education

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A doctor has to go through minimal training at best when it comes to addiction medicine. Of course, this is excluding addiction medical specialists. But the average general physician does not have much education in dealing with substance abuse. And these physicians are on the front line of patient care. Not only are they unable to detect substance abuse problems in patients, they are unaware of how to treat them. More importantly, they are unable to connect with these patients. Damage can be done to patients by doctors lacking addiction education, according to Megan O’Grady, PhD, research scientist and associate director of health services research for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse:

“Research shows that poor training in the care of patients with addiction relates to low confidence among physicians in their ability or competence to treat such patients, negative attitudes toward patients with addiction, pessimism about the effectiveness of treatment, and low rates of implementation of evidence-based practices related to screening, brief interventions and treatment.” 

The negative attitude towards patients is a very damaging mindset. It does nothing good for the addict. They most likely already feel shame about their addiction. Yet many doctors view these patients as weak and unmotivated. They do not see them as having a disease. This mindset results in inferior care and pushes the addict deeper into their substance abuse problem.

Additionally, Dr. Gregory Amer, the president of the Minnesota Society of Addiction Medicine, said “There’s a shortage of doctors who want to specialize in treating addiction, including psychiatrists and doctors able to prescribe medically assisted treatment for addiction.”

Dual Diagnoses

Many addicts need to address the core issues of substance abuse. These issues can be anything from childhood sexual abuse and depression to body dysmorphic disorder and anxiety. It is a fact that addiction hardly ever manifests on its own. Mental illnesses and psychological disorders are commonly present among addicts. Yet when they go for treatment, only the addiction itself is treated. The underlying problems are still present, which means that the addict will probably use again to fill whatever void they have. This is why dual diagnoses are essential.

Brian Leitza, a former hockey player, is just one of the many opiate addicts who began taking pain meds in the beginning. This spiraled into an 8-year addiction to opiates. He already suffered from depression, and the addiction was a symptom of his mental state. But doctors did not address the the underlying issue of his depression  when he sought treatment. This is just one example of how a dual diagnosis would have been advantageous.

Efforts for a Solution

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In a perfect world, licensing boards of primary care specialties would mandate strong requirements about the knowledge of addiction. Doctors would screen patients for addiction problems, and they would encourage treatment. But we do not live in a perfect world. However, efforts are in place to encourage addiction education. Last May, an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration overwhelmingly endorsed required training for physicians who prescribe opioid painkillers. Also in May of 2016, Harvard Medical School students took the matter into their own hands. They claimed that their curriculum was insufficient in teaching them about substance abuse, particularly opioid addiction. They began educating themselves about treating opioid addiction, and launched a campaign to raise awareness about how to buy and use naloxone.

One treatment option that involves a dual diagnosis is integrated treatment:

“This is more or less what it sounds like, immersing the patient in a treatment setting that addresses both their struggles with addiction while also examining the underlying causes and resultant symptoms. In this fashion, each session should be able to help the patient begin recovering from their addiction while also receiving therapy for the affective disorders or mental illnesses that have plagued them during (and often prior to) their addiction.

Here at Amethyst Recovery Center, we believe that addiction education is vital to treating substance abuse problems. Our customized treatment plans ensure that each client finds the right combination of therapy, life skills education, and lifestyle changes that restore wellness. Our caring and experienced staff will guide and advise each client throughout their journey from treatment all the way through to sober living and beyond. Contact Amethyst today for more information on our comprehensive programs.

 

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