Teitelbaum: Let’s talk about the severe shortage of addiction-treatment doctors

Scott Teitelbaum

By Scott A. Teitelbaum, M.D.,
Medical Director, UF Health Florida Recovery Center

Florida is a national leader when it comes to beautiful beaches, citrus production and … drug overdose deaths.

The Sunshine State, like the United States as a whole, is in the midst of a crisis. In 2018 alone, provisional data indicate there were 4,936 overdose deaths in Florida from drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our state’s drug overdose rate is higher than the national average. In addition, alcohol and tobacco still take far too many lives, and together with cannabis are the most common drugs used among youth.

Fortunately, Florida also helps lead the way in training the nation’s addiction-treatment workforce, due in large part to the University of Florida’s longtime commitment to empowering doctors to help prevent, identify and treat people with addiction.

Over the years, my experience as chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine at UF has shown me the power of education in saving lives. Since UF started its Addiction Medicine Fellowship program in 1992, which then became one of the first addiction medicine programs to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, we have trained more fellows than any other addiction-medicine program in the country.

Since nearly every practicing doctor today will encounter patients who have, or are at risk for developing, addiction, it is critical that medical education include a baseline understanding of the disease of addiction.

Our approach has had an amplifying effect in Florida and throughout the U.S. But it’s not enough.

Unfortunately, at a time when overdose deaths are at historic highs, there remains a severe shortage of physicians who specialize in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry.

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