Little more than a decade ago, addiction medicine wasn’t even recognized as a distinct specialty in health care.
Today, with a deadly national opioid epidemic persisting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon Health & Science University is among 44 centers across the nation to be awarded federal funding to enhance training of health care professionals to treat people with substance use disorder. It marks the first federal investment for growing the addiction medicine workforce.
The Oregon Addiction Medicine Fellowship at OHSU will receive $450,000 for each of the next five years ($2,250,000 total) to expand OHSU’s existing training program. It will result in intensive addiction medicine training experiences for physicians in community health centers such as Central City Concern in Portland, in rural communities, among Native American populations and for adolescents with addiction.
“Right now, less than 15 percent of people who need addiction treatment in the U.S. receive it,” fellowship program director Todd Korthuis, M.D., M.P.H., said. “Part of that is due to a workforce shortage. There is just not enough expertise integrated into our health care system to meet the need. The Oregon Addiction Medicine Fellowship trains physicians from multiple specialties to integrate addiction medicine skills in diverse health care settings.”
Funding includes training experiences for physicians in areas where substance use disorder is especially acute. It also supports program coordinator positions at OHSU.
Oregon ranks last among all 50 states in access to addiction treatment, according to a 2017 estimate generated by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The Oregon Addiction Medicine Fellowship program started in 2014. Though graduates are qualified to practice as addiction medicine specialists, the program focuses on integrating addiction treatment expertise into a wide range of health care and community settings. The first 12 fellows include five family medicine physicians, five internists, one neurologist and one anesthesiologist.
Eight of the 12 have stayed in Oregon to establish their careers.
“The idea is that people tend to stay where they train,” said Korthuis, professor of medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics) in the OHSU School of Medicine. “This award advanced one of my long-term visions to increase training for providers in rural Oregon in addition to Portland.”
It reflects OHSU’s larger effort to build medical capacity in the state through residency and fellowship programs.
“The addiction medicine fellowship is one example of our longtime and expanding commitment to immerse and train physicians in communities across Oregon,” said George Mejicano, M.D., M.S., senior associate dean for education in the OHSU School of Medicine. “We are gratified to receive this federal financial support in our effort to better meet the needs of underserved communities, especially in an area as urgent as opioid addiction.”