In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency. Less than two years later, the agency estimated that 10.3 million people in the U.S. had misused prescription opioids and 47,600 people had died from overdoses using these highly addictive drugs.

Today, more than 130 individuals across the nation die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses, an astoundingly high number that experts fear may grow under the stresses and strains of the coronavirus pandemic. While deaths from opioid overdoses actually fell between 2016 and 2018, reports are showing a rise in the number of incidences associated with the advent of the global pandemic.

The American Medical Association stated recently that it is “greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality—particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.” The reports also stress concerns for the health and safety of those with a mental health illness or substance abuse disorder, as well as the need for evidence-based harm reduction services, including sterile needle and syringe services and naloxone.

To address the problem, the HHS aims to increase the number of specialists who are trained in addiction medicine and are able to serve in community-based settings that integrate primary care with mental health services. To accomplish that goal, the agency has chosen 44 accredited addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry fellowship programs from across the country to share in a $20.3M grant to grow their addiction medicine fellowship programs. The Ohio State University College of Medicine’s program is among the 44 programs selected and will receive nearly $4M in funding over the next five years to supply the increased demand for addiction medicine specialists.

Ohio State College of Medicine faculty members Julie Niedermier, MD, professor and vice chair of Education in Psychiatry, and Julie Teater, MD, associate professor and director of the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program, are the lead investigators of the HHS grant. The funding will boost the number of fellowship positions from two to four annually and will enhance training for faculty prevention and treatment of opioid and other substance use disorders, as well as strengthen ties with community treatment sites.

“The grant represents an amazing opportunity for physicians interested in subspecialty addiction medicine training by offering financial incentive to physicians that will offset the opportunity costs of the one-year fellowship,” says Dr. Niedermier. “Also, it is important to note that fellowship training in addiction medicine is open to physicians of nearly all specialties who have completed an ACGME-accredited or AOA-approved residency program. We are already recruiting for our incoming classes of fellows and encourage interested residents and practicing physicians to contact us for further consideration.”

Taking a biopsychosocial approach to the management of substance use disorders, the one-year program gives fellows experience in personalizing care for patients in detoxification, consultation, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient care and longitudinal outpatient clinical care. Fellows become proficient in medication-assisted treatment for medically complex patients or those with comorbid psychiatric disorders. As team leaders, Ohio State addiction medicine fellows join interdisciplinary teams that include nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers and counselors. Upon completion of training, fellows are eligible for board certification in the subspecialty of Addiction Medicine through the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

Ohio State has the infrastructure to deliver these services and to train its fellows, physicians, attending physicians, residents and other practitioners in evidence-based, best-practice delivery of drug and alcohol addiction recovery services.

“This grant will further bolster our interprofessional team’s collaborative efforts, involving faculty from six medical specialties, to deliver excellent patient care and to train the next generation of addiction experts,” says Dr. Niedermier. “We are excited by the opportunity to further advance the educational mission and clinical care of patients with substance use disorders.”

Ohio State has been central Ohio’s leading provider of comprehensive in- and outpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment and recovery services since 1974. In 2019, Ohio State’s program became one of the first centers in the nation to offer one-year fellowships in addiction medicine to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Combining the expertise of physicians in psychiatry, emergency medicine, internal medicine and family medicine, the program encompasses both psychiatry and an addiction subspecialty for primary care doctors.

Learn more about The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s alcohol- and drug-addiction treatment services.