Congratulations to Patrick Gerard O’Connor, MD, MPH, FACP, of the Yale School of Medicine for being the winner of the “Heroes in Medicine” award from Physician’s Weekly for June 2016.
Dr. O’Connor has focused his scholarly work on the interface between primary care and addiction. This has included research examining the transfer of substance abuse treatment strategies from “specialty” settings to primary care settings. He has conducted numerous NIH-funded clinical trials on topics such as the pharmacologic management of alcohol and opioid dependence in primary care and other general medical settings, and he has nearly 200 publications. This work has been published in leading medical journals, such as The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and The Annals of Internal Medicine. Among his accomplishments in research was the first randomized trial of buprenorphine treatment of opioid dependence in primary care. Since then, buprenorphine-based therapy has become the most prevalent treatment approach to opioid dependence in the United States. He has also been active in medical education on addiction, both nationally and internationally.
Addiction has been increasingly recognized as a crisis in Connecticut and across the nation, but it has not always been viewed as a “disease” despite well established scientific evidence to the contrary. In addition research has established numerous evidence-based treatment approaches to addiction and the need to have a workforce of addiction medicine specialists has become quite clear despite an absence of this specialty.
That changed this year when the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) announced that it would include addiction medicine as an official medical subspecialty. Dr. O’Connor was instrumental in bringing about the landmark change when he served as president of the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM), which sponsored the application to ABMS. He has also served as president of the Association for Education and Research on Substance Abuse and has held leadership roles in the Society of General Internal Medicine.
“This recognition by ABMS will help assure patients and their families that the care they receive is grounded in science and evidence-based practice,” said Dr. O’Connor in an ABMS press release. “It will also mean more visibility for this subspecialty among medical students and residents, and will ultimately increase the number of physicians who are trained and certified as addiction medicine specialists.”
The official recognition will help advance the establishment of fellowships in addiction medicine at medical schools nationwide. Yale’s medical school runs a two-year fellowship program to train future leaders in the field, which is led by Dr. Jeanette Tetrault. ABAM began establishing Addiction Medicine fellowships in 2011 and there are now 40 such programs at academicmmedical centers nationwide. It is anticipated that there will be 125 addiction medicine fellowship programs by 2025.
Dr. O’Connor co-chaired a recent landmark White House symposium on the role of medicine in addiction prevention and treatment. The purpose of the symposium, entitled “Medicine Responds to Addiction,” was to address the crisis of addiction through advances in medical training and practice. The historic meeting brought together leaders from several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as representatives from graduate medical training programs, medical boards, public and private health care systems, and foundations from across the country.
A major focus of the symposium was to identify ways to accelerate training and certification of medical providers in addiction prevention and treatment. “Training in addiction medicine is absolutely essential to build a workforce of competent providers,” said Dr. O’Connor.
In March 2016, Dr. O’Connor led a team on a trip to Vietnam in order to help establish addiction medicine training in that country.
Dr. O’Connor is the Dan and Amanda ’97 Adams Professor of Medicine and the Chief of General Internal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine.