To End the Overdose Crisis, Hospitals Need Addiction Specialists

Jess Keefe
An empty hallway in a hospital

As the overdose crisis rages on, our country is in desperate need of solutions. A new report from NPR and Kaiser Health News draws attention to one of the biggest roadblocks we face: The lack of addiction specialists on staff in hospitals.

Emergency rooms are a key point of contact for those in crisis. But too often, people with life-threatening substance use disorders are dismissed with pamphlets and shrugs.

Only 1 in 10 people who need addiction treatment ever receive it — and even fewer receive care that’s rooted in evidence-based best practices. Overdose risk increases sharply after being discharged from a healthcare environment. 

So why aren’t patients with addiction receiving the care they urgently need?

Most clinicians don't know what to do for patients who show signs of problematic drug or alcohol use. 

Substance use disorders are not a part of most medical school curriculums. Clinicians receive no training on how to identify and treat addiction, or on how to manage the condition long-term. They’re not aware of the efficacy of lifesaving addiction medications, or aren’t familiar with their state’s prescribing regulations.

Even worse, some clinicians are influenced by stigma, misinformation, and personal bias when making decisions that affect patients' lives. 

Discharging patients without an aftercare plan. Disparaging “drug-seeking” behavior without looking at the root cause or offering support. Kicking out and shutting down. These are just some of the ways people with addiction report being treated in healthcare settings by doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals. The very people who are supposed to help can sometimes hurt. A lot.

NPR’s story features a ray of hope: Liz Tadie, a nurse practitioner certified in addiction care. She used new funding at Salem Hospital in Massachusetts to launch a program to connect addiction patients with treatment options and ongoing support.

Tadie’s program, and others like it, are hugely successful. Not only do they save patients’ lives and set them on the path to recovery, but they also improve the culture around addiction within healthcare settings. They change hearts and minds, helping all clinicians understand and treat addiction better.

This is why Shatterproof is dedicated to tangibly lessening stigma in healthcare environments. 

Ending addiction stigma is a key pillar of Shatterproof’s strategic plan. Through tangible benchmarks and measurable goals, we’re working to educate and empower healthcare workers to better serve patients with substance use disorders. Learn more about the deadly impact of stigma — and how it can be stopped.