February 8, 2018

Gift supports addiction medicine training program

The 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, “Facing Addiction in America,” leaves little question about the growing problem of addiction.


The 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, “Facing Addiction in America,” leaves little question about the growing problem of addiction.

Almost 22.5 million people reported use of an illegal drug in the prior year. More than 20 million people have substance use disorders, and 12.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription pain relievers in the past year. Seventy-eight people die every day in the United States from an opioid overdose, and those numbers have nearly quadrupled since 1999. Despite the fact that there are effective treatments, only one in five people who currently need treatment for opioid use disorders is actually receiving it.

Along with the increase in patients comes a critical shortage of clinicians with expertise in addiction medicine.

To address that issue, Brentwood, Tennessee’s JourneyPure, a provider of both residential and outpatient treatment for individuals who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, has made a commitment of $100,000 to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to support the training of fellows in addiction medicine. The company has facilities in Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi.

“The gift allows us to build a new training program for physicians who want to learn more about substance use disorders,” said Stephan Heckers, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the William P. and Henry B. Test Professor of Schizophrenia Research.

“There are not enough physicians with subspecialty training in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry. We are building on the history of the previous addiction medicine efforts at VUMC, by Drs. (Anderson) Spickard Jr. and (Peter) Martin. The training in addiction medicine is an effort to provide subspecialty training not only to psychiatrists, but also to colleagues in other medical specialties,” said Heckers who also holds the Donald and Charlotte Test Clinical Directorship in Psychosis Programs.

Kevin Lee, president and CEO of Journey Pure, in its fourth year of operation, said the company has seen the number of people needing addiction treatment increase steadily — the company’s centers treat more than 3,000 persons per year. About 70 percent of patients in their centers abuse more than one drug and the majority indicate their drug of choice is an opioid. Methamphetamine abuse is also increasing again, he said.

“JourneyPure wants to fund training programs for excellent educational institutions such as Vanderbilt. There is a great shortage of well-trained physicians in the addiction treatment space, and Vanderbilt psychiatrists are experienced and very capable of leading valuable and productive training programs,” Lee said.

Reid Finlayson, MD

Reid Finlayson, MD, associate professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and medical director of the new training program, said that VUMC is currently recruiting physicians for the training program.

“Tennessee has some of the highest numbers for opiate prescriptions per person in the country and some of the highest number of people suffering from addiction and death due to opioids,” he said.

Stephen Patrick, MD, a Vanderbilt neonatologist, has described the highest rates in the nation of hepatitis C during pregnancy among pregnant women in Tennessee, a frequent complication of intravenous drug use. Tennessee taxpayers pay to subsidize the ravages of the opioid addiction through law enforcement, court, corrections, family services and healthcare costs. New evidence-based advances in medical care for addiction may reduce the economic burden of addiction morbidity and mortality, Finlayson said.

According to recent figures from the Tennessee Department of Health, there were more opioid prescriptions than people in Tennessee in 2015, and more people died of opioid overdoses than vehicle accidents, homicide or suicides in 2012.

Between 2010-2015, opioid abuse claimed the lives of 6,039 Tennesseans, and the number of Tennesseans who died from drug overdoses jumped 12 percent from 2015 to 2016 (1,631), largely due to growing use of dangerous synthetic opioids.

“The current opioid epidemic has created a tremendous need for physicians who are trained in addiction medicine,” Finlayson said. “We are working hard to keep up with the demand. With this gift from JourneyPure we hope to attract physicians from a variety of disciplines — primary care, obstetrics, etc. We are seeing a growing number of pregnant women dependent on heroin. We intend to train Addiction Medicine fellows to not only diagnose and manage the disease of addiction and its frequent mental health and medical complications, but to help train and support other professionals for the future.

“The gift from JourneyPure will enable us to increase the number of addiction medicine specialists in Tennessee and we’re very grateful for this opportunity,” he said.