Dr. Stanciu: This can vary significantly depending on the setting, geographical region, and demographics of the population. My main non-administrative responsibilities are primarily consultative assisting clinicians at a 200-bed psychiatric hospital to address co-occurring addictive disorders. In short-term units, I am primarily asked to provide input on issues related to various toxidromes and withdrawals and the use of relapse prevention medications for alcohol use disorders as well as the use of buprenorphine or other forms of medication-assisted treatment. I work closely with licensed drug and alcohol counselors in implementing brief interventions as well as facilitating outpatient treatment referrals. Clinicians in longer term units may consult on issues related to pain management in individuals who have addictive disorders, the use of evidence-based pharmacologic agents to address cravings, or the use of relapse prevention medications for someone close to discharge. In terms of specific drugs of abuse, although opioids have recently received a tremendous amount of attention due to the visible costs through overdose deaths, the magnitude of individuals who are losing years of quality life through the use of alcohol and tobacco is significant, and hence this is a large portion of the conditions I encounter. I have also seen an abundance of marijuana use due to decreased perception of harm and increased access.
Dr. Ahmed: What are some of the challenges in working in this field?
Dr. Stanciu: Historically, funding for services has been an issue for clinicians working primarily with addictive disorders from the standpoint of reimbursement, patient access to evidence-based pharmacotherapy, and ability to collaborate with existing levels of care. In recent years, federal funding and policies have changed this, and after numerous studies have found increased cost savings, commercial insurances are providing coverage. A significant challenge also has been public stigma and dealing with a condition that is relapsing-remitting, poorly understood by other specialties and the general public, and sometimes labeled as a defect of character. Several efforts in education have lessened this; however, the impact still takes a toll on patients, who may feel ashamed of their disorder and sometimes are hesitant to take medications because they may believe that they are not “clean” if they depend on a medication for remission. Lastly, recent changes in marijuana policies make conversations about this drug quite difficult because patients often view it as harmless, and the laws governing legality and indications for therapeutic use are slightly ahead of the evidence.
Dr. Ahmed: In what direction do you believe the subspecialty is headed?
Dr. Stanciu: Currently, there are approximately 1,000 certified addiction psychiatrists for the 45 million Americans who have addictive disorders. Smoking and other forms of tobacco use pose significant threats to the 2020 Healthy People Tobacco Use objectives. There is a significant demand for addictionologists in both public and private sectors. As with mental health, demand exceeds supply, and efforts are underway to expand downstream education and increase access to specialists. Several federal laws have been put in place to remove barriers and expand access to care and have paved the way to a brighter future. One is the Affordable Care Act, which requires all insurances including Medicaid to cover the cost of treatment. Second is the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which ensures that the duration and dollar amount of coverage for substance use disorders is comparable to that of medical and surgical care.
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