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Substance Use Disorder

Stop the Stigma and Expand Access to Comprehensive Treatment

The AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse believes it’s up to America’s physicians, patients and policymakers to help stop the stigma of substance use disorders.

Substance use disorder is a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated successfully with comprehensive treatment.

Substance use disorder develops as a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental stimulus that result in physical changes to the brain’s circuitry. This leads to the cravings and characteristic compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.

Steps Physicians Can Take

Help expand access to comprehensive treatment and reduce the stigma of substance use disorder by taking these actions in your practice.

  1. Increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.
    Substance use disorders are medical conditions that can be successfully treated by expanding coverage and using evidence-based treatments such as MAT. This treatment should be made available to all patients with an opioid use disorder, including those insured by state Medicaid programs, those who are incarcerated and those who have failed a previous treatment plan.

  2. Change the conversation.
    Patients with a substance use disorder are friends, family, neighbors and members of our community who deserve care and compassion. When patients are treated for opioid use disorder with MAT, the goal is to produce a satisfying and productive life, not to see how fast the patient can discontinue treatment.

  3. Register and use prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP).
    Physicians, dentists and other prescribers of controlled substances should use PDMPs as a tool to help identify when a patient may need counseling or additional care for treatment and recovery of a substance use disorder.

  4. Increase prevention methods for substance use disorders.
    Physicians and prescribers should intervene early with teens using alcohol or marijuana, as well as encourage and spread awareness of safe storage and disposal methods for opioids and other controlled substances.

  5. Actively screen patients for co-morbid psychiatric disorders.
    Patients with co-morbid psychiatric conditions may have an even greater risk than the general population to misuse opioids. Patients would benefit from more active screening, intervention and referral to treatment.

  6. Support open discussion of treatment options for pregnant women.
    Pregnancy should not limit a woman’s access to opioid medications for pain relief or substance use disorder treatment. Punitive measures taken toward pregnant women who use opioids may discourage them from seeking prenatal care and lead to poor child health outcomes. All women should be able to freely discuss pain care and substance use disorder treatment options with their physician, choose a course of treatment and be supported.

Information & Resources for Medication-Assisted Training (MAT)

Physicians can access the following resources to complete SAMHSA-supported CME courses to qualify to prescribe buprenorphine, help reduce the stigma of substance use disorder and give guidance on safe storage and disposal of medication.

Find additional opioid abuse prevention resources and training recommended by state and medical societies.