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Blondell to direct center for training in addiction medicine

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published October 10, 2013

Richard Blondell
Addiction medicine has traditionally been focused on treatment. But why should we wait for people to totally ruin their lives with drugs before we intervene?
Richard Blondell, vice chair for addiction medicine
School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

A new national center for training physicians in addiction medicine will be directed by a UB family medicine physician who is leading the nationwide effort to educate primary care providers about how best to treat and prevent addiction.

Richard D. Blondell, vice chair for addiction medicine and professor of family medicine in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has been chosen to direct the new National Center for Physician Training in Addiction Medicine. The center is being established by the American Board of Addiction Medicine Foundation (ABAMF), thanks to a $2 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The new center will take a new approach to educating and training primary care physicians how best to prevent and screen for addictions, as well as how best to intervene or make referrals to treatment, especially for adolescent and young adult patients.

“Addiction medicine has traditionally been focused on treatment,” says Blondell, noting that most people are familiar with high-profile treatment centers and celebrities’ efforts to undergo detoxification. “But why should we wait for people to totally ruin their lives with drugs before we intervene?”

“Addiction is a pediatric disease,” he continues. “About 90 percent of those with an alcohol or drug problem became addicted before the age of 18. That means pediatrics. Let’s start looking for early phases of the disease and start intervening then, with screening and treatment, where appropriate. This is a paradigm shift in addiction medicine. Don’t wait for these people to show up in detox. Let’s start diagnosing and treating early.”

Blondell says that this shift in addiction medicine is similar to the shift from treatment to prevention that occurred decades ago with diseases like breast cancer.

“Now we recognize that those diseases can have a 10-year lead time,” he says. “So we started doing cancer screening, like mammograms, to find the disease early. We need to do the same thing with addiction; we need to start looking for early phases of the disease and start intervening right away.”

The new center will focus on curriculum development and training of primary care providers who can become specialists in taking this new approach to addiction medicine.

“Right now, family doctors and pediatricians who are interested in taking a preventive medicine approach to addiction don’t have a pathway to become credentialed,” says Blondell. “We are creating that pathway with the new center that I am directing from UB.”

As chair of ABAMF’s Fellowship Accreditation Review Committee, Blondell directs the organization that determines which addiction medicine fellowship programs in North America receive accreditation. He also founded the UB Department of Family Medicine’s addiction fellowship, one of 19 postgraduate addiction medicine residencies in the U.S. 

In addition to his expertise in addiction medicine education, Blondell studies alcoholism and the relationship between chronic pain and addiction.