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3 Ways Primary Care Physicians Can Help Patients Break the Cycle of Addiction

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Primary care providers (PCPs) sit at the hub of an interdisciplinary and dispersed healthcare field. Part of their job is to treat the more common healthcare disorders while understanding all of the treatments available for patients. PCPs commonly refer more complex diseases to specialists such as oncologists, internal medicine specialists or even addiction medicine facilities.

This article looks at a number of ways PCPs can help their patients successfully find, enter, and benefit from addiction treatment. How can primary care physicians refer patients to the right resources for additional help beyond an office visit?

Referring to Addiction Medicine

“Continuity of care lets us identify and address the underlying causes of addiction and help patients build supportive networks, secure stable housing, and avoid familiar triggers of relapse.”

Julian A. Milton, STAT News

Addiction treatment

PCPs must listen and not judge the substance-abusing patient.

STAT News suggests: “Many primary care providers have been avoiding the battle against opioid addiction and opioid overdoses. But they shouldn’t.” That is because PCPs are perfectly positioned to, first, diagnose the problem, and, second, to make the referral for addiction treatment. That is because family practice providers are not episodic; in theory, they have the opportunity to get to know their patients over the long term. That is something that a specialist simply does not have the opportunity to do.

This puts the PCP at the forefront of the addiction battle. Unfortunately, most family practice residency programs do not provide a lot of specialty training in this area. This makes some PCPs leery of the substance abuser and, in fact, some partake of the particular stigma surrounding these diseases.

Given the “front-and-center” role of the PCP, here are three steps they can take to help patients move toward addiction treatment:

  1. Recognize that help is needed by conducting evidence-based scientific screening, such as SBIRT. This means listening to the patient and searching for the clues that show there is a problem. This must be done without judgment and with compassion.
  2. Help patients find the right treatment facility. This is harder than it sounds. Each state has different rules related to compliance with addiction treatment facilities. These facilities goals include reducing substance abuse, improving functioning in the affected person, and preventing relapse. However, these are generic goals that do not outline how the treatment facility actually reaches them. Family practice physicians must take time to research these facilities in order to make an informed referral.
  3. Follow up on their care. The majority of substance abuse patients have comorbidities. This could mean they have a psychological issue in addition to an addiction to opioids. Or they are suffering from PTSD related to sexual abuse as a child and have developed an alcohol dependence as a result. Many times comorbidities are not treated fully in a drug or alcohol treatment facility. The PCP can and should oversee follow-up treatments with these patients.

Family practice physicians can help fight the opioid epidemic with just three strategies. They can serve an important role in the addiction treatment paradigm and just might save some lives in the process.

Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.

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