“Every person entering recovery should have an ongoing relationship with a primary care physician who is knowledgeable about addiction recovery,” says Bill White, emeritus senior research consultant at Chestnut Health Systems, in his July 11 blog post based on recent survey findings.

The study revealed people with a previous alcohol or other drug use problem report higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS. The quality of life of these individuals was lower when one or more of these diseases was present.

These findings are similar to a 2012 survey by Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health where people in recovery reported higher rates of ER visits, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes as well as were twice as likely to describe their health as poor.

White says the current system of health care provides temporary stabilization of health issues but the complexity of alcohol and other drug use on the body is complex, and the current system is not designed to provide long-term health management for people in addiction recovery.

Houston Recovery Center is now starting to educate emergency medicine residents and doctors to help them learn more about the disease of addiction, the process of recovery, and how their role can impact a patient to successfully address their substance use. Most medical schools do not adequately train physicians on substance use disorder. We hosted a MD/MPH student for his four-week field service requirement. These initiatives are steps that can begin to impact how physicians interact with and treat patients with substance use disorders.

Primary care physicians see people who misuse substances, so it’s best for them to screen for this and initiate a conversation with the patient so they can understand their personal limits or discuss treatment, if needed. For a variety of reasons — including lack of training, lack of time, and stigma surrounding substance use — this conversation does not happen often in the doctor’s office. But this is exactly where it should happen, because people place trust in a doctor. A 2017 study by the Commonwealth Fund found patients are 50 percent more likely to stick with treatment in a primary care setting versus an addiction-treatment center.

New programs need to be developed to equip physicians on how to address substance use issues. They are the front line to monitoring patient health issues. They can help identify substance use issues early in the process, engage their patients to make changes, and create more successful outcomes by thwarting dependence and addiction. Since alcohol is the primary substance used in society, educating patients on reducing their consumption can reduce health and safety risks.