Physicians Group: Treat Addiction As A Chronic Medical Condition

By Kelly Burch 04/03/17

The American College of Physicians is asking members to help decrease stigma around addiction and take an active role in fighting addiction. 

A group of doctors.

The largest professional group of doctors in the country is calling for its members to treat addiction as a “treatable chronic medical condition,” according to a paper released this week. 

The American College of Physicians (ACP) solidified this approach to addiction by publishing a position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine

“Drug overdose deaths, particularly from opioids such as prescription pain relievers and heroin, is a rising epidemic,” Dr. Nitin S. Damle, president of ACP, said in a statement. “Substance use disorders are treatable chronic medical conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, that should be addressed through expansion of evidence-based public and individual health initiatives to prevent, treat, and promote recovery.”

The position paper stresses that substance use disorders are common. It also addresses the fact that these medical conditions have widespread social consequences. Treatment of these disorders is made more complicated by the fact that access to treatment is inconsistent or limited. 

The ACP illustrated this point by comparing treatment rates for substance use disorder with those for other chronic conditions: In 2014, only 18% of people in need of treatment for substance use disorder received any treatment—far below treatment rates for those with hypertension (77%), diabetes (73%), or major depression (71%).

The ACP called on members to fight this by encouraging best practices for treatment and recovery, and continuing to stay up to date on innovations in treatment. 

“Physicians can help guide their patients towards recovery by becoming educated about substance use disorders and proper prescribing practices, consulting prescription drug monitoring systems to reduce opioid misuse, and assisting patients in their treatment,” Damle said.

To address the opioid epidemic specifically, the ACP called for increased access to the overdose antidote naloxone, as well as more widespread use of prescription monitoring systems that are designed to keep individuals from accessing too many painkillers. 

“ACP strongly urges prescribers to check Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs in their own and neighboring states as permitted prior to writing prescriptions for medications containing controlled substances,” Dr. Damle said.

The paper calls for decreasing stigma around addiction, and for doctors to take an active role in helping fight addiction. 

“Substance use disorders have been regarded as a moral failing for centuries, a mindset that has helped establish a harmful and persistent stigma affecting how the medical community confronts addiction. We now know more about the nature of addiction and how it affects brain function, which has led to broader acceptance of the concept that substance use disorder is a disease, like diabetes, that can be treated,” the paper says. 

It goes on, “Communities across the country are confronting an opioid epidemic that has taken tens of thousands of lives, leading physicians to take a more active role in managing the condition and spurring policymakers to reassess the nation’s drug control policy.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.