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Support for Treating Substance-Use Disorders

Kathryn Cates-Wessel, the Chief Executive Officer at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP), joins Ray Barrett in a conversation about how AAAP is supporting health professionals who treat clients suffering from substance-use disorders in primary care and psychiatric settings. She offers tips for finding resources, explains why specialist knowledge is imperative for providers, and what service gaps are preventing effective treatment. 

Kathryn shares 30 years of experience in the substance-used field with roles in administration, medical education, and policy. Prior to working with AAAP, Kathryn was the Associate Director for Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, as well as the Executive Director of Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy. 

According to Kathryn, most AAAP members are board-certified as addiction specialists with both psychiatry credentials and experience in co-occurring substance-use disorders. Many members are also affiliated with universities where they engage in research, publishing, and policy work. This fits into AAAP’s mission to ensure “there are evidence-based practices [available] in the prevention, treatment, and recovery of all substance-use disorders and other addictive disorders.” One of the biggest themes that Kathryn emphasizes is that “education really is key” in helping “more psychiatrists [get] trained in addictions.”

Through the Provider’s Clinical Support System, offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Kathryn says that professionals can advance their addiction education online by accessing over “800 courses, mentoring [opportunities], and discussion forums.” Primary care professionals are in a unique position to benefit from continued education courses that address how to identify the early warning signs of a substance-use disorder before it becomes a larger problem.

One of the most persistent barriers to training health providers as addiction specialists has been the stigma associated with caring for individuals with substance-use issues. A common line that Kathryn hears from providers is that they “don’t take care of those patients,” which makes addiction education and service delivery an “uphill battle.” The onset of COVID-19 has not made things easier. In fact, having fewer trained providers to meet the increase in isolation, depression, and triggers has proven tragic. One positive of the pandemic, according to Kathryn, is that providers who were “hesitant about using tele-psychiatry” are seeing the benefit of adapting their practice.

Kathryn emphasized that addiction psychiatrist education requirements include completion of a “fellowship through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology” if a provider wants to be board-certified. Professionals who forgo certification still have many ways to connect, including accessing resources and the mentor network at AAAP. The daily Clinical Roundtable hosted by AAAP is a popular offering. Here, providers can discuss their cases or have a friendly conversation with a colleague. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can advance your competence in treating substance-use disorders, you can visit the AAAP website or watch the entire video interview above to learn even more. 

By: Michael Tugendhat


American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. (n.d.). Homepage.  [Description: you can learn about the organization promoted in this article by visiting their website directly].

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Homepage.  [Description: SAMHSA is a key funder for substance use training and programs that were referenced in the article].