Practice Economics

ABMS approves new addiction medicine subspecialty



Many more physicians seeking to subspecialize in addiction medicine will now have the official blessing of the American Board of Medical Specialties.

ABMS announced March 14 its approval of an addiction medicine subspecialty that the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) will sponsor.

Physicians who are certified by any of the 24 ABMS member boards can apply for the addiction medicine certification. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology offers certification in addiction psychiatry, but only to psychiatrists.

ABPM hasn’t set a date for the addiction medicine subspecialty’s first board certification exam, which the board will develop. ABPM will post updates on its website,

“Increasing the number of well-trained and certified specialists in addiction medicine will significantly increase access to care for those in need of intervention and treatment,” said ABPM’s board chair, Dr. Denece O. Kesler, in a statement.

One in seven Americans older than 12 years meets medical criteria for an addiction to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs, according to statistics from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. But only 11% of those who need treatment are able to receive it, in part because of a lack of addiction medicine providers.

The American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) hailed the new subspecialty. “This is a great day for addiction medicine,” Dr. Robert J. Sokol, president of ABAM and the Addiction Medicine Foundation (AMF), said in a statement. “This landmark event, more than any other, recognizes addiction as a preventable and treatable disease.”

ABAM has certified 3,902 physicians, according to the organization, which is not an ABMS member board. There are 40 AMF-sponsored fellowship training programs nationally, with a commitment to establish 125 more by 2025. AMF expects the ABMS recognition will lead to the fellowships gaining the imprimatur of the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education.

“This is a positive development that has the potential to address a serious public health problem,” Dr. Daniel Lieberman, vice chairman of the psychiatry and behavioral health department at George Washington University, Washington, said in an interview. “This action will reassure doctors who are interested in addiction medicine that the time and effort they put into obtaining additional training will give them the status of a subspecialist with recognized expertise. It may also encourage young doctors to consider addiction medicine as a career path.”

Meanwhile, a package of mental health reforms moving in the U.S. Senate could improve patients’ access to addiction medicine providers. One of the bills, the TREAT Act, would increase the number of substance use detoxification patients that a qualified provider is legally allowed to treat annually, from 30 patients to 100 patients. The legislation also would allow those practitioners to request permission to annually treat unlimited numbers of patients thereafter.

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