Why We Treat Addiction

Elisa Gumm, DO, Addiction Medicine Fellowship Director

No one choses addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease with a relapsing and remitting course which needs passionate, dedicated, empathetic physicians to treat. I chose to treat addiction to fight the stigma which prevents physicians from getting trained, and patients getting treated. All patients deserve evidence-based care without barriers.

Melody Glenn, MD, MFA, Clinical Assistant Professor, Emergency Medicine & Psychiatry

When I first began my career in emergency medicine, I did not realize that addiction was a disease, nor that it had effective treatment. We didn't learn much about addiction in medical school or residency, my EM textbook only devoting two pages to how to use to use naloxone to reverse an overdose. And so, I often felt frustrated and hopeless when interacting with patients who used drugs. But once I learned about buprenorphine and methadone and started to give it to eligible patients, that entire dynamic changed into one of extreme satisfaction. Starting someone on MAT offers a level of instant gratification rarely seen in medicine, especially when working with chronic diseases. And the more I worked in addiction, the more I realized it was the perfect conduit for practicing social justice, my initial goal when deciding to pursue a career in healthcare. If we really want to treat addiction, we must become more than just clinicians, we must become activists who advocate tirelessly for a population that is often stigmatized, racialized, and criminalized.

Jasleen Chhatwal, MBBS, MD, FAPA, Chief Medical Officer, Sierra Tucson

Health conditions in human beings are as complex and multi-layered as humans themselves. Substance use disorders are no different. They need a bio-psycho-socio-spiritual understanding and a nurturing environment to help individuals move into recovery. Patient education and empowerment, reduction of self-stigma, use of evidence-based pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions are at the core of my approach to addiction and its complications. As a psychiatrist and integrative medicine physician, I aim to help my patients overcome adversity, trauma and addiction to lead a wholesome, meaning-filled life.

Stephen Remolina, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at In Balance

Addiction is a family system disease. In order to help an adolescent struggling with addiction, we must treat the entire family because the family must gain insight for the individual adolescent to develop their own insight into the addiction. The recovery process requires great efforts on both the family and the adolescent. This truly changes the trajectory of entire family by saving the adolescence’s life and restoring the family unit. Adolescent Addiction treatment requires the child psychiatrist to utilize their entire skill set, making the work difficult but equally rewarding. As a physician, this is one of the most rewarding interventions.

Mark Grant, MD, 2022-23 Addiction Medicine Fellow

In the clinical setting, I felt equipped with the skills necessary to help keep patients alive yet felt powerless on discharge knowing how unfairly the deck was stacked against them. In pursuing this fellowship in addiction medicine, I aspire to gain the knowledge necessary to reshuffle this deck: to provide evidence-based treatments that help patients overcome their addictions and start living again. In doing so, I hope to educate my peers, empowering them to begin to treat addiction and to restore dignity to where stigma once stood.

Chris Dixon, DO, 2021-22 Addiction Medicine Fellow

As a family medicine physician practicing at a community health center in Tucson since 2009, I have seen many lives and families shattered by the effects of addiction. I chose to take a year off from my family medicine practice to complete an addiction medicine fellowship in order to learn how to better serve my patients who suffer with substance use disorders.  As an addiction medicine physician, I play an active role in empowering my patients as they access effective treatment modalities that will help them throughout their journey of recovery.  After completing the fellowship, I plan to return to the community health center setting where I hope to not only make a difference for my own patients but to provide guidance and education to other health care providers regarding evidence-based treatments for addiction. I also enthusiastically look forward to continuing to teach medical students throughout my career, sharing the knowledge I will gain with the next generation of physicians. 

Spencer Roberts, DO, 2021-22 Addiction Medicine Fellow

Addiction is something that affects so many individuals, families, and communities and yet it remains one of the most stigmatized and least understood medical conditions around. I know that in both my personal and professional life I have witnessed the impact that substance use can have on loved ones. Fellowship training at the University of Arizona has allowed me to join in the success of patients as they have sought treatment and begun the road to recovery and healing. Additionally, it has been a pleasure and a boon to work with and learn from the diverse cadre of like-minded professionals who are all committed to making a difference in the lives of those who use substances.

Alicia Hidalgo, MD, 2021-22 Addiction Medicine Fellow

As an internal medicine hospitalist, I encounter many patients with substance use disorder in my daily practice. In the inpatient setting, many physicians lack the training and comfort level to effectively address the needs of this patient population. Additionally, people who struggle with substance use disorder often face judgement based on biases and the stigma surrounding the disease. I chose addiction medicine because it is an underserved need in my primary patient population and also very satisfying for me professionally to serve these patients. My goal is to use the knowledge I gain and my expertise in treatment of patients and to educate my colleagues, residents, and medical students to diagnose and apply evidence-based care to the management of patients with substance use disorder.

Lindsey Retterath, MD, 2021-22 Addiction Medicine Fellow

Through community-level harm reduction, appropriate medical interventions, and multi-modal individualized treatment, we improve the lives of individual patients and Southern Arizona communities impacted by substance use disorders (SUD). As a pediatrician, the opportunity to enhance screening, referrals, and treatment for adolescents particularly motivates me. As an emergency physician, I have the opportunity to promote harm reduction among and offer treatment modalities for patients in the ER. As a community member, I get to collaborate with and glean from innovative physicians and public health leaders spanning many specialties. My inspiration to be part of this work only grows, and I am confident this will continue as the field evolves.

Michelle O'Brien, DO, 2020-21 Addiction Medicine Fellow

Addiction is a disease process that can affect anyone. No one is immune. I have learned so much about resiliency and courage by witnessing the struggle yet scrappiness of those who survive and then thrive during treatment. It has been such a gift to be allowed in during a difficult process where patients are met with such stigma and shame. Nothing has been more rewarding as a physician than to be a small part, hopefully a helpful part, of that journey of recovery. This is why I thoroughly enjoy treating those who struggle with substance use.

Jamie Weinand, MD, 2020-21 Addiction Medicine Fellow

I became interested in treating addiction as a medical student and resident in family medicine, when I encountered so many patients with addictions. People with addictions have treatable conditions but often received substandard care due to stigmas entrenched in our society. Particularly with conditions like opiate use disorder, we have excellent evidence-based medical treatments that still remain stigmatized and with limited access to the people who truly need it. Nearly 90% of people with opioid use disorder will relapse, and buprenorphine has been shown to lower that relapse rate down to about 50%. For other conditions that family doctors treat, such as diabetes mellitus, if a medication as effective as buprenorphine is for opioid use disorder was ever developed for diabetes, that medication would be distributed in a heartbeat to patients without issue. However, for addiction, there are major roadblocks and barriers even within healthcare itself and these evidence-based, safe treatments are still not routine. I hope one outcome of our fellowship is that we empower more primary care physicians to treat addiction and teach our colleagues, with more family practitioners viewing addiction as being within our scope of care.

Edward Ramsey, MD, 2019-20 Addiction Medicine Fellow

My training at the UArizona Addiction Medicine Program has prepared me to practice independently and confidently and renewed my love for medicine. I regained a sense of value to society and self-worth as it relates to what I can offer to patients afflicted with substance use disorders. I now work in Houston, TX at Contemporary Medicine and Associates, a private practice that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of substance use disorders.