Twenty-one hundred people registered to come to this meeting, the biggest yearly event of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. In the vast grand ballroom, row after row of chairs, in section after section, are occupied with medical professionals eager to learn more about their chosen field. Leaders in the field are scheduled to speak.
On this first morning, distinguished and learned people are ready to speak.
But first…a poet spoke to us.
Joseph Greene is a spoken word artist. I didn’t know what that was until he started, but then I discovered I liked it.
He performed his poetry. First, he reminded us to shed our cynicism and pessimism, symptoms of burnout. He reminded us to remember the people we have already helped, and to allow their energy to revitalizes us. Right away, I felt a wave of enthusiasm.
I admired the positivity his poetry evoked in his audience. We are not so easily moved, we doctors who toil on the front lines in the war on the people who use drugs. We can become cynical, and he moved us out of our pessimistic ruts.
The plenary speakers who came after him presented information and had mixed news.
Patrice Harris, MD, MA, Chair of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, gave us alarming updated information: ninety-one people die from opioid overdose each day in the U.S., according to data from 2015, the last year for which we have data. That’s up from seventy-eight opioid overdose deaths per day in the previous year. That’s depressing news, especially since the amount of opioids prescribed in this country has been dropping since 2014, a little before the American Medical Society’s call to action. From 2013 to 2015, the total amount of opioids prescribed dropped by about 10%.
Mortality grew despite many more physicians signed up to use their states’ prescription monitoring programs, pushes to prescribe more naloxone to reverse overdoses, more medication drop-off so controlled substances don’t fall into unintended hands, and a push to increase treatment availability.
Despite an eighty-one percent increase in physicians trained to prescribe medication-assisted therapies in the years 2012 to 2016, still only twenty percent of U.S. citizens with opioid use disorder got treatment.
Dr. Barbara Mason, PhD, winner of the R. Brinkley Smithers Distinguished Scientist award, spoke next. She reminded us that despite all the attention paid to opioid use disorder, alcohol still causes many more deaths per year. In the U.S., about eighty-eight thousand deaths per year are attributable to alcohol. Alcohol is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Dr. Mason gave us information about new studies on medications which may be approved for use in alcohol use disorder treatment.
At present, we have only three medications approved by the FDA: disulfiram (Antabuse, acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol). Only around ten percent of people with alcohol use disorders are prescribed any of these three medications.
Next we heard from Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, Surgeon General of the U.S. He planned to talk to us in person but due to airplane delays, had to join us via internet. We also had plenary sessions with talks from George Koob, PhD, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and from Wilson Compton, MD, MPE, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
All of the speakers were good, and most of them were great.
I’ve learned much, socialized a little, ate some great food, and relaxed.
Being around this many people who are all excited about helping people with substance use disorders change their lives is exhilarating. Even better than the data I learned is the enthusiasm I’ve re-discovered.
Thank you, American Society of Addiction Medicine, for another great conference!