One-tenth of American adults suffer from substance use disorders at some point in their lives, yet only one-quarter of such people receive any form of treatment.3 Since these disorders have multiple clinical consequences, every physician should understand how substance use disorders present and how to address them in their own clinical settings. Embedding information related to substance use disorders throughout the medical curriculum helps ensure that all physicians receive appropriate training.
Patients with substance use disorders are often stigmatized when seeking healthcare services. Providers who are competent and confident in their understanding of substance use disorders and their treatment are more likely to provide appropriate counseling and care to patients.4 We have demonstrated that physicians and other primary care providers exposed to our substance use disorder content experience an increase in their addiction medicine treatment competence and a reduction in their stigmatizing feelings toward patients with substance use disorders.5 When physicians and their teams understand that they can effectively intervene, they are more likely to provide good care.6
Physicians’ personal substance use habits have been consistently shown to affect their ability to assess, prevent, treat, and refer patients with substance use disorders. Ensuring that the population of physicians is as healthy as possible, including around substance use habits, makes it more likely that patients get the help they need. Exposing students, trainees, and physicians to information related to addictive disease can reduce their personal use of these substances,7 and increase their substance-related counseling of patients, belief in the relevance of substance use counseling, and confidence in performing that counseling.8
Online learning related to substance use disorders and addiction medicine has been proven effective. Furthermore, medical schools and schools of public health have adopted the materials for their in-person and hybrid programs, creating an even broader reach for these materials both online and offline.
The Annenberg Physician Training Program: Abstinence Based Treatment for Addictive Disease has sponsored a curricular threading initiative in health science courses so that physicians and their teams will be prepared to competently and compassionately treat patients with substance use disorders, using an integrated learning model and with a public health lens. The curricular threading components are meant to enhance knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills related to the treatment of substance use disorders for all providers in training and in practice while enhancing the healthy habits of physicians and their teams helping to ensure that all physicians are ready and willing to prevent and treat addictive disease in their patient populations and in the wider community.
See some examples of curricular threading below: