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Physician presence will gain boost with addiction medicine's recognition as subspecialty

March 21, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An action announced last week by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is expected to propel physicians more aggressively into the mainstream of addiction treatment, helping to overcome historical barriers to their greater involvement.

In a development that observers say surfaced earlier than expected, the ABMS announced on March 14 its recognition of addiction medicine as a subspecialty. In addition, addiction medicine will become one of only two medical subspecialties for which any ABMS-certified physician will be able to apply (clinical informatics is the other). This acknowledges the potentially important role any practicing physician can play in the prevention and treatment of addiction.

“It has long been our view that American medicine is the greatest in the world for treating disease, and yet we have missed the boat on delaing with the etiology for much of that disease, which is addiction,” says Kevin Kunz, MD, executive vice president of the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) and The Addiction Medicine Foundation (formerly The ABAM Foundation). ABAM has been instrumental in advocating the subspecialty recognition, and also will continue its existing certification for physicians in addiction medicine.

Impact on public

The ABMS recognition will elevate addiction medicine's visibility among both medical students pursuing training and the general public seeking treatment options. Up to now, says Kunz, an individual or family member could not even locate an addiction medicine specialist in a phone directory because the lack of recognition for the subspecialty has meant that a physician could not be listed under that designation.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) had historically sought to gain recognition of addiction medicine as a subspecialty under which physicians could become trained and accredited. But Kunz says it was determined that an independent board could best advance the idea, and thus ABAM came into existence in 1997. It has certified nearly 4,000 physicians in its own credentialing process, many from family medicine, internal medicine and psychiatry.

Now these same physicians and more will be able to pursue ABMS certification as well, a recognition that an ABAM news release terms “the 'gold standard' in physician credentialing, assuring patients that their physician meets the highest standards of practice and clinical knowledge, and has completed an approved educational program and process.”

The American Board of Preventive Medicine is ABMS's sponsoring board for the addiction medicine subspecialty, and it will be developing the certification requirements and posting them on its website. A summary that is currently posted on the website states, “The new subspecialty of Addiction Medicine will be open to any physician certified by any of the 24 Member Boards of the ABMS. The first certifying examination is not anticipated until the new examination is constructed.”

Kunz suggests that the subspecialty credential will appeal to a variety of physician specialists, from family physicians and psychiatrists to pediatricians, obstetrician/gynecologists, preventive medicine specialists and others.

He adds in reference to the ABMS announcement, “This has signaled the acceptance of addiction as a legitimate disease where prevention and treatment can be in the hands of physicians and the medical community.”



This is a major event! It's another step toward recognizing that addiction is a chronic disease and that people in recovery are likely to need the services of a board certified medical specialist at critical junctures in their recovery. So many people recovering from an addictive disease become unstable as the result of a medical procedure, e.g. surgery. Having a board certified medical specialist on that person's medical team is essential.