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Only 10 percent of medical schools have a course in addiction. Why?

I recently listened to a webinar by the American Society of Addiction Medicine entitled “What the Surgeon General report means for the addiction medicine field.”Medical School

It was an overwhelmingly upbeat discussion until Dr. Tom McLellan, chairman and founder of the Treatment Research Institute and also a contributor to the report, weighed in with this: Less than 10 percent of medical schools in America have a course in addiction. Same for pharmacy and nursing schools.

McLellan, whose son died of an overdose, has been relentless in his insistence that the medical community treat addiction as it does other illnesses.

“There is no place that I know of that gives you 30 days of insulin treatment and a hearty handshake and sends you off to a church basement,” McLellan said in an interview with National Public Radio last year.

Further proof that the medical community is not interested in addiction is the lack of physicians who have become licensed to prescribe buprenorphine – the drug used to wean addicts off opioids.

Nearly 900,000 physicians are allowed to write prescriptions for opioid painkillers, yet only 36,000 have become licensed to prescribe buprenorphine.

Critics say it is senseless to require physicians to be licensed to prescribe buprenorphine but not opioids. Still, licensing is not a time-consuming or costly process: an 8-hour course that costs about $30.

Perhaps the real reason physicians are not getting licensed to prescribe buprenorphine is because they don’t want addicts in their waiting rooms. Addicts are high maintenance, time consuming and often non-compliant.

What is astounding is that the medical community is turning its back on a disease that affects so many. It is estimated that 21.5 million Americans suffer – and I mean suffer – from a substance use disorder every year. For every one of those addicts, at least four other people are profoundly affected: a parent, friend, sibling, spouse, child or employer.

That means 107.5 million Americans – nearly 30 percent of the population – either have a substance use disorder or are profoundly impacted by someone who does.

Simply put, the medical community is not only refusing to take responsibility for an epidemic it largely created by over-prescribing opioids but is now refusing to accept that addiction is really a disease – which happens to be the number one killer of young people in this country.

There is no greater stigmatization of the disease than the medical community refusing train doctors in addiction medicine.

How are we going to convince the public that addiction is a disease when the medical schools don’t offer courses on addiction ?








Only 10 percent of medical schools have a course in addiction. Why?

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2017). Only 10 percent of medical schools have a course in addiction. Why?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Jan 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jan 2017
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