Dr. Gitlow Highlights ASAM Progress Since Last Year’s Med-Sci Conference

Stuart Gitlow, M.D.

Stuart Gitlow, M.D.

ASAM Acting President Stuart Gitlow, M.D., welcomes you to Atlanta and takes this occasion of the Medical-Scientific Conference as an opportunity to highlight major accomplishments of the society during the past year, to address challenges to addiction medicine, and to discuss a future of great potential.

One particularly enormous accomplishment recently involved the release of ASAM’s definition of addiction. “The media really picked up on it, and the definition received widespread newspaper and television coverage,” Dr. Gitlow says. “It was very well received by both the addiction medicine community and the broader medical community. Now it is time for us to build on that recognition. My goal for ASAM is for it to become the leader in the field in terms of addiction definitions and diagnostic terminology.”

He also praised the development of the new ASAM  task force to address “the considerable discrimination against patients with addiction in receiving coverage for appropriate pharmacologic treatment.” Problems range from limits on how long coverage is available to the amount of medication covered. The task force will coordinate ASAM’s response to these barriers by investigating policies state-by-state and sending teams of individuals to those states. These teams will educate legislators about how denying appropriate pharmacotherapy and treatment costs more than providing effective medication.

ASAM’s development of a marijuana policy is also a major priority for Dr. Gitlow. Last year, ASAM developed a white paper, “The Role of the Physician in ‘Medical Marijuana,'” that concluded there is currently no good reason for the use of marijuana for any medical condition.

“We recognize the need for, and encourage, further study,” he says. “We essentially are working on the second part of our marijuana policy at a time when some states are moving in a direction of legalizing marijuana to some extent. It is a big challenge for us to come up with a consensus as a national organization.”

Dr. Gitlow also praises ASAM’s updated website, as one of the society’s greatest accomplishments of the past year, offering critical information to addiction medicine specialists and the public across the country. Particularly useful is the new integrated functionality with the President’s Blog, where members and other stakeholders may interact with ASAM leadership and receive immediate feedback, as well as keep up to date on crucial research, treatment, diagnosis, and policy issues in addiction medicine. Additionally, state chapters of ASAM may readily set up their own pages within the ASAM website or place links to state chapters’ established websites, all with the intent to foster communication directly with members.

“Our website will become extremely important in the coming years as people begin to enter into the maintenance of certification process for their addiction medicine certificate through the American Board of Addition Medicine (ABAM),” Dr. Gitlow says. “Our updated website makes it easy for them to obtain CME online through review and other courses in addiction medicine. We are hopeful members will be active participants in the ASAM website and provide us feedback so we can be better and faster in responding to their needs.”

ASAM will conduct its major elections this year. Dr. Gitlow encourages ASAM members to review the information coming out this fall about candidates and consider which candidates would best serve ASAM. He also encourages members to consider running for ASAM leadership positions themselves.

“We want people to be excited about the issues involved,” he says. “We want there to be a constant vibrancy to the organization that you can only get when leaders at the top change from term to term.”

In addition to accomplishments, ASAM also faced challenges. Perhaps the greatest is the need to grow the specialty of addiction medicine itself. Money is available to fund treatment for addiction, but not nearly enough doctors are available who understand this disease, he notes. Non-physicians are entering the addiction treatment arena, and he predicts that in a decade, thousands of nurses and physician assistants will treat addictive disease “but not necessarily correctly. We have to move forward forcefully, but cautiously, in terms of finding our way through this new era.”

Another challenge involves a contentious political climate where half the nation supports the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), while the other half does not. ASAM must move cautiously here as well to determine the best course of action for ASAM members and their patients in advocacy efforts. At the same time, ASAM is awaiting the final regulations for the Parity legislation passed in 2008 and how they will be integrated into the details of the ACA.

“Our future holds enormous potential,” Dr. Gitlow says. “With the formation of the American Board of Addiction Medicine in 2007, we are in a wonderful position to continue on the path of being the de facto addiction medicine physician specialty organization. I am proud that we are moving in the direction of an American Board of Medical Specialties’ board certification. I am thrilled to think that addiction medicine will soon be on the same level as other specialties. That means that patients with addictive disease will no longer be puzzled about whom they should seek for addiction treatment.”