Overdose Epidemic

Care for substance use disorder guide

Physician holding patient's hands

The newly updated “Care for Substance Use Disorder How-To Guide" provides physician practices and health systems serving both children and adults with practical strategies, actionable steps and evidence-based resources for identifying and addressing unhealthy substance use or misuse in their patients.

This is part of AMA’s broader efforts to empower health care organizations to overcome key obstacles to accessible and equitable treatment for their patients' behavioral, mental and physical health needs.

Substance use disorder and behavioral health care

Find actionable, evidence-based best practices on treating substance use disorder while operationalizing integrated behavioral health care.

Like other chronic diseases, substance use disorder (SUD) disrupts the healthy function of the body and increases an individual’s risk of developing other health conditions. And yet, because of the stigma that is often associated with SUD, individuals may be reluctant to seek care.

Before screening begins, it is important for health care organizations to establish an environment of trust and demonstrate a non-judgmental approach that recognizes SUD as a disease.

Screening tools can then be used to help identify at-risk patients and direct them to behavioral health clinicians when support is needed.

Integrating substance use disorder treatment practice

In this guide, primary care physicians and their care teams will learn how to include best practices in their processes and procedures to address child, adolescent and adult patients patients dealing with SUD.

  1. Align and train teams to recognize SUD as a disease and treat all patients with compassion.
  2. Evaluate and identify those at-risk of or living with substance use disorder and assess willingness for treatment with a behavioral health clinician. This includes facilitating open conversations about unhealthy substance use/misuse with patients,  gauging their readiness to change and receptivity for treatment.
  3. Implement a treatment plan and follow-up. Recognize that every patient is different, and treatment plans will need to be tailored to their willingness or ability to engage. As individuals stabilize, consistent follow-up allows for ongoing evaluation to ensure that the patient's goals are being met.
  4. Understanding financial considerations of how to bill for screening, evaluation and treatment of patients experiencing SUD, including awareness of specific Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) codes, will help ensure the sustainability of treatment efforts.
  5. Gain access to resources such as checklists, training programs and screening tools.

Download the AMA's "Care for Substance Use Disorder How-To Guide" (PDF) to learn more about how your practice or system can effectively support, manage and treat substance use disorder in your patients.

With an increased number of people reporting worsening mental health in recent years, it is imperative that people are aware of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) telephone program.

People experiencing a suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress can call, chat or text 988, and speak to trained crisis counselors. The national hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The previous National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will continue to be operational and route calls to 988 indefinitely.