Bent Science and Bad Medicine: The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship and Social Control

IMG_9005The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship, and Social Control

Sociologist Stanley Cohen  used the term “”moral panic” to characterize the amplification of deviance by the media, the public, and agents of social control.1  Labeled as being outside the central core values of consensual society, the deviants in the designated group are perceived as posing a threat to both the values of society and society itself.   Belief in the seriousness of the situation justifies intolerance and unfair treatment of the accused.   The evidentiary standard is lowered.

Howard Becker describes the role of “moral entrepreneurs,” who crusade for making and enforcing rules that benefit their own interests by bringing them to the attention of the public and those in positions of power and authority under the guise of righting a society evil. 2

And according to cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the media obtain their information from the primary definers of social reality in authoritative positions and amplify the perceived threat to the existing social order. The authorities then act to eliminate the threat.3  The dominant ideas or ideologies are reproduced by relying on the opinions of the defining authority and then spread through the media. The communal good has been assailed.

As a society governed by organizations, associations,  institutions and regulatory bodies, the medical profession is not immune to “moral panics.”  A threat to patient care or the values of the profession can be identified and amplified.   A buildup of public concern fueled by media attention ensues creating a need for governing bodies to act. Medical Professionalism and the Public Health has been assailed.

Unbeknownst to the general public and most members of the medical profession at large, certain groups have gained tremendous sway within medical society. Through  moral entrepreneurship they have gained authority and become  the primary definers of the governance of the medical profession and the social control of  doctors.  To benefit their own interests they have fostered and fueled “moral panics” and “moral crusades. ” Exhorting authorities to fight these  threats by any means necessary  they have successfully made and enforced rules and  regulations and introduced new definitions and tools with no meaningful resistance or opposition.

The Inquisition did not have to convince  individual citizens or the general public of their beliefs to advance an agenda; just Ecclesiastical and Political Authority.  Similarly, the  “impaired physicians movement” did not have to convince individual doctors or the medical profession of their beliefs  to further a self-serving agenda; just  regulatory and administrative authority.

Addiction Medicine Monopoly, False Authority and Conflicts of Interest

The “impaired physicians movement” can be defined as a group of physicians with alcohol and substance abuse problems who, having found sobriety through 12-step spirituality, banded together to promote the ideology behind their personal  “recovery”  to other doctors and the medical community at large. In the 1980s the movement gained momentum and as their numbers grew  began calling themselves  specialists in “addiction medicine.”  The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)  is not a true specialty, but a Self-Designated-Practice-Specialty, which simply means that is what they are calling themselves.  It reflects neither knowledge nor expertise..  “Board certification” by the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

ABAM certification requires only a medical degree, a valid license to practice medicine, and completion of residency training in ANY specialty.  Addiction Psychiatry, a subspecialty of psychiatry under the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry  is the only  specialty recognized by the ABMS. and their specialty society is the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

The ASAM is schooled in just one one uncompromising model of addiction with the majority attributing their very own sobriety to that model–the chronic relapsing “brain disease” with lifelong abstinence and 12-step spiritual recovery model.   As the “voice of addiction medicine,” the ASAM has nevertheless defined the dominant treatment paradigm in the United States.   ASAM doctors outnumber addiction psychiatrists by 4:1 and the movement is well funded.   Because addiction is defined as a “disease”, addicts must be “treated” (more often coercive than voluntary), and “cured” (defined as abstinent).  The billion dollar  assessment and treatment industry and the drug and alcohol testing industry  lucratively profits from this model which has grown to monopolize addiction treatment  in the United States.

The goal of the ABAM Foundation is to “gain recognition of Addiction Medicine as a medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).”   A monopoly defined by self-appointed experts without recognized  specialty training will soon likely Robber baron their way to being accepted as  a true specialty.Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.15.35 AM

Physician Health Programs, Regulatory Agencies, and Treatment Centers

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) meet with, assess, and monitor doctors who have been referred to them for substance use or other mental or behavioral health problems. Unless being monitored by one, PHP practices are unknown to most physicians and operate outside the scrutiny of the medical community.  Initially funded by State Medical Societies and staffed by volunteer physicians,  PHPs  served the dual function of helping sick doctors and protecting the public.

As the populations of ASAM physicians proliferated  in the 1980s, many  joined their state Physician Health Programs. PHP doctors who did not agree with the ASAM groupthink were gradually removed  and they  organized under the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP).  Other ASAM physicians found employment at treatment centers as staff physicians and medical directors.

The FSPHP cultivated a relationship with the  Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the state PHPs formed alliances with their  state medical boards. Promoting themselves as offering “treatment” rather than”punishment” they offered an alternative to disciplinary action.  They then began promoting their successful outcomes  in rehabilitating “impaired physicians”,  and this history can be seen by examining the archives of the Journal of Medical Regulation and similar  publications.  In 1995 the   Washington  PHP claimed a success rate of  95.4%,   Tennessee  claimed 93% and Alabama 90%.

Part of this success was attributed  to the specialized  treatment centers for doctors directed by their ASAM colleagues such as  Ridgeview Institute in Atlanta created by G. Douglas Talbott.  Talbott, who helped organize and serve as past president of the ASAM claimed a 92.3 percent recovery rate. He also put forth a Medical Urban Legend–the proposition that doctors were a different species, separate from the rest of society, who needed special treatment three times longer than anyone else.  Amazingly, this dicto simpliciter argument that can, in fact, be refuted simply by pointing it out  was allowed to enter regulatory medicine unopposed.  Simply because, sadly, no one ever pointed out the logical fallacy. It is now entrenched.    Three months or more of treatment is  standard of care for our profession. They did this by getting medical boards and the FSMB to accept fantasy as fact by relying on board members tendency to accept expert evidence at face value.

Physicians are unique only insofar as the unique elements required of the profession to become and be a physician such as going to medical school and completing the required board examinations.  That’s it.    I implore anyone to put forth any sound argument based on science and evidence that justifies a thrice lengthy stay in medical professionals.  Not gonna happen.   Thought stopping memes and logical fallacy is the best they have to offer.  And, unfortunately this type of  rabbling gibberish cuts the mustard in the regulatory medicine venue.   A “low-bar” evidentiary standard is not the problem.  If you look at the documentary evidence from a medico-historical perspective there never was a bar.  The FSMB has essentially given the impaired physicians movement carte blanche authority and unrestrained managerial prerogative.  A bar never even existed.  It’s a laissez-faire Lord of the Flies free-for-all.    The logical fallacy of appeal to authority–illegitimate and irrational authority.  Bamboozled by smoke and mirrors.

A 1995 issue of the FSMB publication  The Federal Bulletin: The Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline contains reports on eight  separate state  PHPs.   The “almost 90% success rate” was  applauded by the editor, who added  “cooperation and communication between the medical boards and the physician health programs must occur in an effort to protect the public while assisting impaired physicians in their recovery.”   And more recent reports suggest PHPs   reduce malpractice claims. They are now being promoted as a replicable model  to be used in other populations.

The problem is no one bothered to examine the methodology to discern the validity of these claims.  There has been no critical analysis or Cochrane type review of any of these studies which are invariably small, methodologically flawed, and biased.

The FSMB has accepted them as  expert authority and  their authoritative opinion as fact.  It  is this acceptance of faith without objective assessment that has allowed the ASAM and FSPH to advance their agenda. By  confusing ideological opinion  with professional knowledge, the FSMB and state Medical Boards have acted as willing gulls each step of the way. No counter-forces existed.  And they still don’t.   Junk science and unvalidated neuropsychological testing is used by these groups unconstrained and willfully.  There is no regulation, oversight, or accountability.  They are using polygraph testing (despite the AMA’s previous public policy statement deeming it junk) to both condemn “disruptive” surgeons and deem convicted pedophiles fit to return to work.  They have introduced junk-science in drug and alcohol testing and unvalidated “neuropsychological” testing to detect “character-defects” by getting regulatory agencies to accept the validity of these tests not by the Scientific Method or Evidence Based Research but by (to coin a term) “Regulatory Sanctification”

To paraphrase one FSPHP member,   “Who needs evidence-based medicine when the boards have already accepted these tests as valid?”  Who indeed?

The ideological bias and financial conflicts of interest between PHPs and the  treatment centers was also not recognized. It still isn’t.  The  spotlights are apparently all  on Big Pharma  in this regard.    Some sunlight needs to be exposed in the direction of the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and assessment industry as well.

Doctors  were held at Ridgeview three times longer than the rest of the population (and at three times the cost)  under threat of loss of licensure.   Although there is no evidence base or plausible explanation why an entire profession would have a three-times  longer length of stay than the rest of the population this continues to be the reality. There is no choice.

in 2011 The ASAM issued a Public Policy Statement on coordination between PHPs, regulatory agencies, and treatment providers recommending  that  only “PHP approved” treatment centers be used in the assessment and treatment of doctors.  It specifically excludes non “PHP -recognized” facilities.  And what defines a “PHP approved” treatment center?    In addition to finding essentially no oversight by the state medical society and medical board, a recent audit of the  North Carolina PHP found financial conflicts of interest and no  documented criteria for selecting the out of state treatment centers they used.  The common denominator the audit missed was that the 19  “PHP-approved” centers were all ASAM facilities just like Ridgeview whose medical directors can be seen on this list.

The appeal to authority logical fallacy has enabled the FSPHP to become the expert authority on physician impairment through the eyes of the medical boards.  It has also allowed them to increase their scope.

The FSMB House of Delegates adopted an updated Policy on Physician Impairment at their 2011 annual meeting distinguishing “impairment” and “illness”  stating that:

“Regulatory Agencies should recognize the PHP as their expert in all matters relating to licensed professionals with ‘potentially impairing illness.'”

According to the FSPHP, physician illness and impairment exist on a continuum with illness typically predating impairment, often by many years.”

The policy extends PHP authority to cover physical illnesses affecting cognitive, motor, or perceptive skills, disruptive physician behavior, and “process addiction” (compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, video gaming, and “workaholism”). It also defines “relapse without use” as “behavior without chemical use that is suggestive of impending relapse.”

G. Douglas Talbott defines  “relapse without use”  as  “emotional behavioral abnormalities” that often precede relapse or “in A A language –stinking thinking.”  AA language has entered the Medical Profession and no one even blinked.  It will get worse.

The ASAM has  monopolized addiction treatment in the United States.   It has imposed  it on doctors through the FSPHP.  The FSPHP political apparatus exerts a monopoly of force. It selects who will be monitored and dictates every aspect of what that entails.  It is a, in fact, a  rigged game.

Inherent in this model is the importance of external control.  It gives them power to exert control over the individual regardless of whether they need to be treated.

By bamboozling regulatory medicine this was accomplished.    And the maintenance of this relationship is necessary as this  presentation  by an FSPHP physician  warns, “guard this relationship jealously.”

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Moral Panics and Moral Crusades

By introducing and fueling moral panics the ASAM/FSPHP political apparatus has been able to expand in both scope and power.

The Medscape article “Drug Abuse Among Doctors:  Easy, Tempting, and Not Uncommon” published in the “Business of Medicine” section in January 2014 is characteristic example of the authoritative opinion, propaganda, and misinformation spun to maintain a pervasive climate of fear. Proof by anecdote.  Physicians are “5 times as likely as the general public to misuse prescription drugs” according to Lisa Merlo, PhD.  “Given the epidemic of prescription addiction sweeping the nation, that’s a grim statistic.”

Described as a “researcher at the University of Florida’s Center for Addiction Research and Education,” Merlo’s research involving 55 doctors being monitored by their state Physician Health Program published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in October 2013 found “most physicians who abuse prescription drugs” do so to “relieve stress and physical or emotional pain.”  Nowhere is it mentioned on Medscape that Merlo is the Director of Research for the Florida state PHP Professionals Research Network.   Physician access to medications through prescriptions,  “networks of professional contacts, and proximity to hospital and clinic supplies” gives them “rare access to powerful, highly sought-after drugs” says Marvin D. Seppala, chief medical officer at Hazelden.  This access “sets them apart” and “not only foment a problem” but”perpetuate it” says Seppala.  “Access “becomes an addict’s top priority” and they “will do everything in their power to ensure it continues.”  

“They’re often described as the best workers in the hospital,” he says. “They’ll overwork to compensate for other ways in which they may be falling short, and to protect their supply. They’ll sign up for extra call and show up for rounds they don’t have to do.”-Dr. Marvin D. Seppala

Physicians are intelligent and skilled at hiding their addictions, he says. Few, no matter how desperate, seek help of their own accord.”  In reality this is absurd.  And if you look at any of the current “moral panics” that are being used to suggest random suspicion-less drug testing of all doctors or promoting the Physician Health Programs as the “New Paradigm” you will inevitably find a doctor, just like Marv Seppala who is on this list as  an author or interviewee.  It is a given.

The terms  “impaired physician” and  the “disruptive physician”  are used as labels of deviancy.  As deviants who allegedly threaten the very core of medicine (patient care) and  the business of medicine (profit)  they must be stopped at all costs.   Belief in the seriousness of the situation justifies intolerance and unfair treatment.  The evidentiary standard is lowered.  Aided by a  “conspiracy of silence” among doctors in which impaired colleagues are not reported  necessitates identification of them by any means necessary.   Increase the grand scale of the hunt.

In this way these front-groups have successfully acted as moral entrepreneurs to make and enforce rules and put forth new definitions and mandates that serve their own interests.     A retrospective non -blinded non-randomized cohort study with serious underlying methodological errors involving 904 physicians being monitored by PHPs is now being used to “set the standard for recovery.”

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Across the Country doctors are going to the media,  law enforcement, the AGO, and the ACLU only to be turned a deaf ear.   Many consider this a “parochial” issue best handled by the medical community. Doctors reporting crimes are turned back over to the very perpetrators of the crimes.   The Medical Societies and professional organizations contribute to the problem by willful ignorance.   Accusations are used to disregard the claims of the accused.   It is a system of institutional injustice that is driving many doctors to suicide.  Hopeless, helpless, and feeling entrapped many are taking this route.  And no one is talking about it.   This cannot be avoided any longer.

The next target is the “aging physician.”   And as they have done with the “impaired” and “disruptive” physician” the FSPHP and their affiliates are setting the stage for another “moral crusade.”

  1. Cohen S. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creatio of the Mods and Rockers (New Edition). Oxford, U.K.: Martin Robertson; 1980.
  2. Becker H. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press; 1963.
  3. Hall SC, Critcher C, Jefferson T, Clark J, Roberts B. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Macmillan; 1978.

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Disrupted Physician 101.5: The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) uses (or misuses) Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

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 The goal of the ASAM has always been to get the medical establishment to accept 12-step spiritual recovery.

AMSA evolved into the ASAM

AMSA evolved into the ASAM

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine is the “go-to textbook in the specialty of addiction medicine” and:

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The 4th Edition of The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine contains an entire section entitled “Mutual Help, Twelve Step, and Other Recovery Programs” containing three chapters entitled “Twelve Step Programs in Recovery,”1 “Recent Research into Twelve Step Programs”2 and “Spirituality in the Recovery Process.”3

Despite the all-encompassing title of this 31-page section (pages 911-942) no “other recovery programs” are described. In fact, no other programs bar 12-step ideology are even mentioned.

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I have read through each chapter word-for-word three times just to be sure; and although the chronic relapsing brain disease model of addiction requiring lifelong abstinence and spiritual recovery is described, trumpeted and proselytized in great detail, not one other model of addiction is even named.

As with anything I write I encourage you to fact-check this. My goal here is to present my opinions with facts and evidence that can be checked and verified. Point out any errors of fact and I will promptly remove and correct them. 

If a Cardiology textbook had a section entitled “Cholesterol, Statins and other Lipid Lowering Agents” with three chapters that only described Lipitor it would be correctly lambasted from every angle by the entire field of medicine as soon as it hit the shelves.

The lack of evidence-base and conflicts-of-interest would be recognized and dealt with immediately and when it was realized that many of the authors not only profited from, but  based their very own cardiac health on Lipitor they would rightly be held accountable. Such is not the case in Addiction Medicine.

The validity and reliability of opinions lie in their underlying methodology and evidence base. Reliance on the personal authority of any expert or group of experts is the fallacy of appeal to authority.

An appeal to Authority is a fallacy with the following form:

  1. Person A is (claimed to be) an authority on subject S.
  2. Person A makes claim C about subject S.
  3. Therefore, C is true

The fallacy is committed when the person (or group) in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject. If person A is not qualified to make reliable claims about subject S then the argument will be fallacious.   Since this sort of reasoning is fallacious only when the person is not a legitimate authority it is necessary that acceptable standards be set and the following standards are widely accepted.

  1. The person has sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question.
  1. The claim being made by the person is within her area(s) of expertise.
  1. There is an adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question.
  1. The person in question is not significantly biased.
  1. The area of expertise is a legitimate area or discipline

With the exception of number 5 the ASAM fails on all counts, but policy makers, members of the press, politicians and others have been successfully bamboozled into believing the ASAM are indeed “experts” in Addiction Medicine.   imgresOver the years, the American Society of Addiction Medicine has continued to promote the AA position that alcoholism (and by inference any other addiction) is an illness which only a “spiritual experience will conquer.” All addictions are believed by ASAM to be caused by a lifelong chronic relapsing brain disorder that can only be treated by complete abstinence from all mood-altering substances (with the apparent exceptions of tobacco and caffeine interestingly) and the vast majority of ASAM doctors believe that the only effective treatment for addiction must include surrendering one’s “will and life over to the care of God.”

Because addiction is defined as a disease, addicts must be “treated” (often coerced) and “cured” (which is defined as remaining abstinent).

The medical profession needs to reexamine its role in Addiction Medicine.

Confusing ideological opinions with professional knowledge is unacceptable.   Presenting it as textbook science is not only dangerous but fosters negligence, abuse of power, self-interest and prejudice on the part of the medical community with respect to the treatment of all patients.

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To be clear, just as Lipitor may be the best treatment for some individuals with elevated cholesterol, AA and 12-step may be the best treatment for some individuals with addiction and substance use disorders. If it works for them, then more power to them. I have no problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is imposing and mandating any treatment on others.

Under a dictatorship everything else becomes subordinated to the guiding philosophy of the dictatorship.   Corresponding doctrine replaces professional guidelines, standards of care, and evidence based medicine.  And unfortunately in the case of Addiction Medicine the guiding philosophy often trumps autonomy and ethics.

Inherent in the current chronic brain disease model of addiction is the importance of external control over individuals.  Political correctness and the oversimplified medicalization of addiction is allowing it.   Demanding scientific literacy and discriminating good science from bad science would prohibit what is occurring and In order to save American Medicine this problem needs to be clearly recognized. Otherwise we will become a profession that is essentially defined by the false dichotomies and grand illusions defined by the impaired physicians movement.

  1. Schulz JE, Williams V. Twelve Step Programs in Recovery. In: Ries R, Fiellin D, Miller S, Saitz R, eds. Principles of Addiction Medicine. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkens; 2009:911-922.
  2. McCrady BS, Tonigan GS. Recent Research into Twelve Step Programs. In: Ries R, Fiellin D, Miller S, Saitz R, eds. Principles of Addiction Medicine. 4 ed: Lippincott Williams & Wilkens; 2009:923-937.
  3. Galanter M. Spirituality in the Recovery Process. In: Ries R, Fiellin D, Miller S, Saitz R, eds. Principles of Addiction Medicine. 4 ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkens; 2009:939-942.
Please donate to Disruptedphysician.com here to keep this blog running.  It is expiring in 21 days and any contribution would be appreciated.   We are making significant gains with articles such as  Physician Health Programs Under Fire .     These issues may seem small in the current turbulence, a small whirlpool in a maelstrom, but in reality they have enormous implications for all of us.  Please help out if you can-ML

 

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Disrupted Physician 101.4–The “Impaired Physician Movement” takeover of State Physician Health Programs

Forget what you see
Some things they just change invisibly–Elliott Smith

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Physician Impairment

The Sick Physician: Impairment by Psychiatric Disorders, Including Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, published by the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Mental Health in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1973,1 recommended that physicians do a better job of helping colleagues impaired by mental illness, alcoholism or drug dependence. The AMA defined an “impaired physician” as “a physician who is unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients because of mental illness or excessive use or abuse of drugs, including alcohol.”

Recognition of physician impairment in the 1970s by both the medical community and the general public led to the development of “impaired physician” programs with the purpose of both helping impaired doctors and protecting the public from them.

IMG_1010The 1975 media coverage of the deaths of Drs. Stewart and Cyril Marcus brought the problem of impaired physicians into the public eye. IMG_0940Leading experts in the field of Infertility Medicine, the twin gynecologists were found dead in their Upper East Side apartment from drug withdrawal that New York Hospital was aware of but did nothing about. Performing surgery with trembling hands and barely able to stand, an investigation revealed that nothing had been done to help the Marcus brothers with their addiction or protect patients. They were 45 –years old.

Top: Twin Gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus Bottom: The Movie

Top: Twin Gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus
Bottom: The Movie “Dead Ringers” starring Jeremy Irons based on the Marcus twins

Although the New York State Medical Society had set up its own voluntary program for impaired physicians three years earlier, the Marcus case prompted the state legislature to pass a law that doctors had to report any colleague suspected of misconduct to the state medical board and those who didn’t would face misconduct charges themselves.


Physician Health Programs

Physician health programs (PHPs)  existed in almost every state by 1980. Often staffed by volunteer physicians and funded by State Medical Societies, these programs served the dual purpose of helping sick colleagues and protecting the public. Preferring rehabilitation to probation or license revocation so long as the public was protected from imminent danger, most medical boards accepted the concept with support and referral.

As an alternative to discipline the introduction of PHPs created a perception of medical boards as “enforcers” whose job was to sanction and discipline whereas PHPs were perceived as “rehabilitators” whose job was to help sick physicians recover. One of many false dichotomies this group uses and it is perhaps this perceived benevolence that created an absence of the need to guard.


Employee Assistance Programs for Doctors

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) are the equivalent of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for other occupations. PHPs meet with, assess, and monitor doctors who have been referred to them for substance use or other mental or behavioral health problems.

Most EAPs, however, were developed with the collaboration of workers unions or some other group supporting the rights and best interests of the employees. PHPs were created and evolved without any oversight or regulation.

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The American Society of Addiction Medicine can trace its roots to the 1954 founding of theNew York City Medical Society on Alcoholism (NYCMSA) by Ruth Fox, M.D whose husband died from alcoholism.

The society, numbering about 100 members, established itself as a national organization in1967, the American Medical Society on Alcoholism (AMSA).

By 1970 membership was nearly 500.

In 1973 AMSA became a component of the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA) in a medical advisory capacity until 1983.

But by the mid 1980’s ASAM’s membership became so large that they no longer needed to remain under the NCADD umbrella.

In 1985 ASAM’s first certification exam was announced. According to Dr. Bean-Bayog, chair of the Credentialing Committee, “a lot of people in the alcoholism field have long wanted physicians in the field to have a high level of skills and scientific credibility and for this body of knowledge to be accredited.”2 And in 1986 662 physicians took the first ASAM Certification Exam.

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By 1988 membership was over 2,800 with 1,275 of these physicians “certified” as “having demonstrated knowledge and expertise in alcoholism and other drug dependencies commensurate with the standards set forth by the society.”3 “The formation of State Chapters began with California, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland submitting requests.4

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In 1988 the AMA House of Delegates voted to admit ASAM to the House. According to ASAM News this “legitimizes the society within the halls of organized medicine.”2

By 1993 ASAM had a membership of 3,500 with a total of 2,619IMG_8919certifications in Addiction Medicine. The Membership Campaign Task Force sets a goal to double its membership of 3,500 to 7,000 by the year 2000 to assure “the future of treatment for patients with chemicals. It represents a blueprint for establishing addiction medicine as a viable entity.”5

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Many of these physicians joined state PHPs and over time have taken over under the umbrella of the FSPHP.

Others became medical directors of treatment centers such as Hazelden, Marworth and Talbott.


  1. The sick physician. Impairment by psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism and drug dependence. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. Feb 5 1973;223(6):684-687.
  2. Four Decades of ASAM. ASAM News. March-April 1994, 1994.
  3. . American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies Newsletter. Vol III. New York, NY: AMSAODD; 1988:12.
  4. . AMSAODD News. Vol III. New York, NY: American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies; 1988.
  5. Membership Campaign Update. ASAM News. Vol VIII: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 1993:11.

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Disrupted Physician 101.2: “Addiction Medicine” is a Self-Designated Practice Specialty Unrecognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties–(An AMA Census Term Indicating Neither Training nor Competence)

V0011377 A quack doctor selling remedies from his caravan; satirizingEducational and Professional Standards in Medical Specialties and Subspecialties

The increasingly rapid growth and complexity of medical knowledge in twentieth century American medicine resulted in the creation of specialties and subspecialties.

A related development was the creation of “boards”  to “certify” physicians as  knowledgeable and competent in the specialties and subspecialties in which they claimed to have expertise.   The American Board of Ophthalmology, organized in 1917, was the first of these.

As the number of medical specialties proliferated an umbrella organization was formed to accomplish this task. The Advisory Board for Medical Specialties was created  in 1933 and reorganized as the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in 1970.  This non-profit organization oversees board certification of all physician specialists and sub-specialists in the United States.

The ABMS recognizes 24 medical specialties in which physicians can pursue additional training and education to pursue Board Certification.Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.44.56 PM

In 1991 the American Board of Medical Genetics was approved as the 24th ABMS board and these 24 boards grant the  37 general certificates and 88 subspecialty certificates available to medical specialists today.

The ABMS Member Boards are responsible for developing and implementing the educational and professional standards for quality practice in a particular medical specialty or subspecialty and evaluate physician candidates for Board Certification.  They set the bar of knowledge and competence for their given area of expertise.

All of the ABMS Member Boards are:

“committed to the principle of examining doctors based on six general competencies designed to encompass quality care: patient care, medical knowledge, practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, and systems-based practice.”

These areas have been collectively identified by the ABMS, the American College of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in order to standardize graduate medical education in any specialty  from medical school graduation through retirement.1

One of the  24 medical specialties ABMS recognizes in which physicians can pursue additional training and education and pursue Board Certification is Psychiatry.

Founded in 1934, The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is one of the 24 ABMS specialty boards. In 1959, the ABPN issued its first subspecialty certificate in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and was the only ABNP subspecialty until 1991 when the first examination in Geriatric Psychiatry was administered.4 Addiction Psychiatry became a subspecialty of ABPN in 1993.

The ABPN governs the specialty of Psychiatry, of which Addiction Psychiatry is a subspecialty.   Board Certification in Addiction Psychiatry requires a four-year psychiatric-residency program for training in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mood, anxiety, substance-abuse as well as other psychological and interpersonal problems followed by an additional year of training in one of the 40 accredited Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship programs. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is the professional organization responsible for the accreditation residency education programs in the US for ABMS specialty and subspecialty areas of medicine. Addiction Psychiatry training programs are governed by the ACGME and graduates are eligible for ABPN Certification in Addiction Psychiatry.

When this rigorous education and training is complete a candidate is Board Eligible and can then take the subspecialty certification exam. The exam assesses competency in the dand consultation, pharmacotherapy, pharmacology of drugs, psychosocial treatment and behavioral basis of practice to be Board Certified in the subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry by the ABPN.

Candidates must then be assessed in  a number of areas including psychiatric evaluation and consultation, pharmacotherapy, pharmacology, toxicology, psychosocial treatment, behavioral basis of practice, and many other areas in which for the past half-decade they where taught and apprenticed.

The current structure of residency training is little changed from when it was conceived originally by William Stewart Halsted in the late 19th Century.  Physicians acquire knowledge and skills necessary to safely and competently manage patients through apprenticeship. Training in a specialty area provides a comprehensive platform that allows medical school graduates to apply a body of knowledge to patient care and the treatment of disease. This forms the foundation of our Guild–undifferentiated and general but pluripotential.

The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) is the only professional organization in the US focused on the subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry.   The AAAP Mission Statements are to: 2

  • Promote high quality evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment for substance use and co-occurring mental disorders.
  • Translate and disseminate evidence-based research to clinical practice and public policy.
  • Strengthen Addiction Psychiatry specialty training and foster careers in Addiction Psychiatry.
  • Provide evidence-based addiction education to health care trainees and health professionals to enhance patient care and promote recovery.
  • Educate the public and influence public policy for the safe and humane treatment of those with substance use disorders.
  • Promote prevention and enhance addiction treatment and recovery across the life span.
  • Promote research on the etiology, prevention, identification and treatment of substance use and related disorders.

Self-Designated Practice Specialty :  An AMA Census Term Indicating What a Group of Doctors are Calling Themselves.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.22.16 PMThe American Medical Association records a physician’s Self-Designated Practice Specialty (SDPS) in response to an annual credentialing survey. According to the AMA, SDPS are “historically related to the record-keeping needs of the American Medical Association and do not imply ‘recognition’ or ‘endorsement’ of any field of medical practice by the Association. SDPS refers to a self-designated specialty and this is not equivalent nor does it imply ABMS [American Board of Medical Specialties] Board Certification.a_meissen_group_of_harlequin_and_the_quack_doctor_circa_1741_faint_blu_d5585085_001h

“The fact that a physician chooses to designate a given specialty/area of practice on our records does not necessarily mean that the physician has been trained or has special competence to practice the SDPS.”3

Physicians have been able to list addiction medicine as a self-designated area of practice using the specialty code “ADM” since 1990.Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.45.43 PM

In contrast to these accepted board credentials, American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)  certification requires only a medical degree, a valid license to practice medicine, completion of a residency training in ANY specialty, and one year‘s full time involvement plus 50 additional hours of medical education in the field of alcoholism and other drug dependencies. The majority of American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) physicians meet these requirements by “working in a chemical dependency treatment facility, taking continuing medical education courses in addiction, or participating in research.”6

The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s mission is to “establishScreen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.47.55 PM addiction medicine as a specialty recognized by professional organizations, governments,, physicians, purchasers, and consumers of health care products, and the general public.’5   They have succeeded in doing this as many consider them to be the experts in addiction medicine including regulatory agencies.

The goal of the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) Foundation is to “gain recognition of Addiction Medicine as a medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).”

But Addiction Medicine is currently not recognized by the ABMS.  It is still a a Self-Designated Practice Specialty and the ABAM is a Self-Designated Board.  So too is the American Academy of Ringside Medicine and Surgery, the American Academy of Bloodless Medicine and Surgery and the Council of Non-Board Certified Physicians.   But these Self-Designated Boards do not have the multi-billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and treatment industry supporting them. Addiction Medicine has deep pockets, and if the November 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is a harbinger of what’s to come, this self-designated practice specialty currently being certified by a self-designated Board and bereft of anything resembling the the educational and professional standards for quality practice in a particular medical specialty or subspecialty may soon robber baron its way into acceptance by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

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One thing is for certain.  When society gives power of diagnosis and treatment to individuals within a group schooled in just one uncompromising model of addiction with the majority attributing their very own sobriety to that model, they will exercise that power to diagnose and treat anyone and everyone according to that model.  The birth of Addiction Medicine as an ABMS accepted discipline is sure to be a success for the drug and alcohol testing and 12-step treatment industry, but its spawn is sure to be an inauspicious mark on the Profession and Guild of Medicine and a bane of society for years to come.

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  1. Stevens RA. In: Stevens R, Rosenberg C, Burns L, eds. History and Health Policy in the United States: Putting the Past Back in: Rutgers University Press; 2006:49-83.
  2. American Association of Addiction Psychiatry Website http://www.aaap.org/about-aaap/mission-statement (accessed 4/2/2014).
  3. American Medical Association. List & Definitions of Self-Designated Practice Specialties. August 21, 2012 http://www.ama-assn.org/ama.
  4. Juul D, Scheiber SC, Kramer TA. Subspecialty certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Academic psychiatry : the journal of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and the Association for Academic Psychiatry. Spring 2004;28(1):12-17.
  5. http://www.asam.org/about-us/mission-and-goals.
  6. Tontchev GV, Housel TR, Callahan JF, Kunz KB, Miller MM, Blondell RD. Specialized training on addictions for physicians in the United States. Substance abuse : official publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse. Apr 2011;32(2):84-92.

Disrupted Physician 101.3 –“For What it’s Worth”— The ASAM/ABAM Diploma Mill

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
— George Orwell

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I can think of no other specialty or subspecialty in the profession of medicine where non-existent expertise can be incontestably announced and implemented.  If I claimed to be an ace neurosurgeon or an expert otolaryngologist and started practicing my claimed skills in the hospital I would be called on it pretty quick by both colleagues and patients–deemed a delusional fraud and run out on a rail within a week.  Both law enforcement, attorneys and psychiatry would be called in short order.

Yet doctors who have not met the usual and customary standards for professional and educational quality that have been identified for medical specialties and subspecialties are able to claim expertise in “addiction medicine” and everybody just lets them.

To make this point I sat for the 2010 American Board of Addiction Medicine Certification Examination.  I did this to make a point–kind of like seeing how easy it is to buy a gun at a Walmart.

I simply went to the ABAM Website, completed the application and paid the fee.

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The requirements to sit for the exam included so many “practice experience hours” over the past five years and 50 CME credits related to addiction.

With a year of psychopharmacology research, a half-day per week moonlighting at the MBTA medical clinic giving drug tests to bus drivers and another overnight moonlighting job giving medical clearance to patients at a local psychiatric hospital detox unit I satisfied the first requirement.   For the latter I looked through the last five years of morning reports, noontime lectures and grand rounds I went to and added them up and, falling a little short supplemented the CME credits with some online modules.

And with that I was given a date at Pearson to take the test.

I have absolutely no training or education in the field of addiction medicine.  I didn’t pick up a book or study anything. I did not prepare at all. I did not even get a good night’s sleep the night before and stayed up until 2:30 a.m.   Nevertheless I went to the testing facility the next morning and finished the test within an hour and a half.  My score is below.  Aced it.   Passing score was 394 and I got a 459.

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And the point I am trying to make is I am no expert in Addiction Medicine.  Neither is 4000 of me. Yet the letter below says I am.  Majority apparently rules.

Giving false expertise to the unqualified and granting them power over others is just as dangerous as the gun from Walmart.  They can both kill.

An interest in something does not an expert make. If we allow this then the ASAM 12-step chronic brain disease model not only swallows addiction medicine but tarnishes all of medicine.  An imposition by force and the deep pockets of the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.

ASAM is not a true medical specialty. It is a special interest group.   ABAM is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

The arguments seem to be:

1) Addiction is a prevalent “disease”  that needs to be “treated;”

2) There are not enough Addiction Psychiatrists to diagnose and treat them.

3) Being an M.D. addict or alcoholic gives enough knowledge and apprenticeship skills to diagnose and treat others with the same affliction.

4) Let’s utilize them to fill the void.

This is logical fallacy and it is dangerous.

The validity and reliability of opinions lie in their underlying methodology and evidence base. Reliance on the personal authority of any expert or group of experts is the fallacy of appeal to authority.

An interest in something does not an expert make.  I had an interest in science as a child but my certification as a member of Sir Isaac Newton’s Scientific Club did not make me a scientist.

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I have asthma but that does not make me a Pulmonologist.  That addiction “specialist” diagnosing and treating you may have 5 years prior been a proctologist; and maybe not even a very good one at that.

Somewhere there may be doctor with no post-graduate training in surgery wielding a scalpel and calling himself an expert surgeon, but it is difficult to imagine that he is a very good one.

I received my ABMS certification without meeting a single person. It was all done by mail.   This fits the very definition of “Diploma Mill.”  This is not to besmirch those with a sincere interest in helping others with addiction.  Many if not most of those involved are sincere. But this is not expertise.  This is not authority. And, as we have seen, this low bar opens the door for some very bad apples.

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“This election is not about issues,” Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager said this week. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” That’s a scary thought. For the takeaway is so often base, a reflection more of people’s fears and insecurities than of our hopes and dreams.
— Judith Warner, New York Times, September 4, 2008

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Disrupted Physician 101.1: The “Impaired Physician Movement” and the History of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

“With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around the shoulder of medicine, we might change the world.”—Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, AA World Services, Inc (1953).
 
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In order to comprehend the current plight of the Medical Profession and the dark clouds that lie ahead it is necessary to understand the history of the “impaired physician movement” and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

In 1985 the British sociologist G. V. Stimson wrote:

“The impaired physician movement is characterized by a number of evangelical recovered alcoholic and addict physicians, whose recovery has been accompanied by an involvement in medical society and treatment programs. Their ability to make authoritative pronouncements on physician impairment is based on their own claim to insider’s knowledge.”1

The impaired physician movement emphasizes disease and therapy rather than discipline and punishment and believes that addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease requiring lifelong abstinence and 12-step spiritual recovery. The drug or alcohol abuser or addict is a person lacking adequate internal controls over his or her  behavior;  for his own protection as well as the protection of society external restraints are required including involuntary treatment.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine can trace its roots to the 1954 founding of the New York City Medical Society on Alcoholism (NYCMSA) by Ruth Fox, M.D whose husband died from alcoholism.

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Finding that alcoholics in her psychoanalytic practice did not recover when she used conventional analytic approaches, she taught her patients about alcoholism as a disease and introduced “them to AA meetings held in her living room.”2

A number of physicians in the New York Medical Society were themselves recovering alcoholics who turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for care.3

The society, numbering about 100 members, established itself as a national organization in 1967, the American Medical Society on Alcoholism (AMSA).3

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The group promoted the concept of alcoholism as a chronic relapsing disease requiring lifelong spiritual recovery through the 12-steps of AA.

By 1970 membership was nearly 500.2Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 2.47.51 PM

In 1973 AMSA became a component of the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA), now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) in a medical advisory capacity until 1983.

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“Abstinence from alcohol is necessary for recovery from the disease of alcoholism” became the first AMSA Position Statement in 1974.2

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In 1985 ASAM’s first certification exam was announced. According to Dr. Bean-Bayog, chair of the Credentialing Committee:

“A lot of people in the alcoholism field have long wanted physicians in the field to have a high level of skills and scientific credibility and for this body of knowledge to be accredited.”2

And in 1986 662 physicians took the first ASAM Certification Exam.medical

By 1988 membership was over 2,800 with 1,275 of these physicians “certified” as:

“having demonstrated knowledge and expertise in alcoholism and other drug dependencies commensurate with the standards set forth by the society.”4
“While certification does not certify clinical skill or competence,” the Board explained, “it does identify physicians who have demonstrated knowledge in diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism and other drug dependencies.”5
Somehow, I don't think this is quite what they had in mind!

Somehow, I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind!

Achieving “recognized board status for chemical dependence” and fellowships in  “chemical dependency”  are among the five-year objectives identified by the group.  These are to come to fruition by  “careful discussion, deliberation, and consultation” to “determine its form and structure and how best to bring it about.”5

The formation of ASAM State Chapters begins with California, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland submitting requests.6

In 1988 the AMA House of Delegates votes to admit ASAM to the House. According to ASAM News this “legitimizes the society within the halls of organized medicine.”2

In 1989 the organization changes its name to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).2

Since 1990, physicians have been able to list addiction medicine as a self-designated area of practice using the specialty code “ADM.”

By 1993 ASAM has a membership of 3,500 with a total of 2,619 certifications in Addiction Medicine.

The Membership Campaign Task Force sets  a goal to double its membership of 3,500 to 7,000 by the year 2000 to assure “the future of treatment for patients with chemicals. It represents a blueprint for establishing addiction medicine as a viable entity.”7

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Ninety physicians become Fellows of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) in 1996 “to recognize substantial and lasting contributions to the Society and the field of addiction medicine.”8

Among the honorees are Robert DuPont, G. Douglas Talbott, Paul Earley, and Mel Pohl. In addition to at least five consecutive years of membership and certification by the Society, Fellows must have “taken a leadership role in ASAM through committee service, or have been an officer of a state chapter, and they must have made and continue to make significant contributions to the addictions field.”8

The American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) is formed in 2007 as a non-profit 501(C)(6) organization “following conferences of committees appointed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine” to “examine and certify Diplomats.”9

In 2009 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, M.D., gives the keynote address at the first ABAM Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.12.23 AMboard certification diploma ceremony.10

According to an article in Addiction Professional “Board certification is the highest level of practice recognition given to physicians.”

“A Physician membership society such as ASAM, however, cannot confer ‘Board Certification,’ ” but a“ “Medical Board such as ABAM has a separate and distinct purpose and mission: to promote and improve the quality of medical care through establishing and maintaining standards and procedures for credentialing and re-credentialing medical specialties.”

The majority of ASAM physicians meet these requirements by “working in a chemical dependency treatment facility, taking continuing medical education courses in addiction, or participating in research.”11

“In the United States accredited residency programs in addiction exist only for psychiatrists specializing in addiction psychiatry; nonpsychiatrists seeking training in addiction medicine can train in nonaccredited ‘fellowships,’ or can receive training in some ADP programs, only to not be granted a certificate of completion of accredited training.”11

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Specialty recognition by the American Board of Medical Specialties, fifty Addiction Medicine Fellowship training programs and a National Center for Physician Training in Addiction Medicine are listed as future initiatives of the ABAM Foundation in 2014.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s mission is to “establish addiction medicine as a specialty recognized by professional organizations, governments, physicians, purchasers, and consumers of health care products, and the general public’12   

In this they have succeeded.

And in the year 2014 G.V. Stimson’s characterization of the “impaired physician movement” remains as accurate and apt as it was in 1985. But the “number of evangelical recovered alcoholic and addict physicians” has increased dramatically  (outnumbering Addiction Psychiatry by 4:1)  and their involvement in  medical society and treatment programs” has been realized and enforced through the state Physician Health Programs and their “PHP-approved’ assessment and treatment centers.Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.11.55 AM

Their “ability to make authoritative pronouncements on physician impairment…based on their own claim to insider’s knowledge”  has become public policy and sanctified by Regulatory Medicine -essentially the Word of the Lord.

And the 1953 Alcoholics Anonymous prophecy that “With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around the shoulder of medicine, we might change the world” is also coming to pass.

But the world is not changing for the better as that arm around the shoulder of religion has its fingers deep in the pockets of the multi-billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and assessment and treatment industries.  And the arm around the shoulder of medicine has its fingers clamped tightly around its throat; a stranglehold in full throttle suffocating the Profession of Medicine with no meaningful opposition I can see.

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  1. Stimson GV. Recent developments in professional control: the impaired physician movement in the USA. Sociology of health & illness. Jul 1985;7(2):141-166.
  2. Four Decades of ASAM. ASAM News. March-April 1994, 1994.
  3. Freed CR. Addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry in America: Commonalities in the medical treatment of addiction. Contemporary Drug Problems. 2010;37(1):139-163.
  4. . American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies Newsletter. Vol III. New York, NY: AMSAODD; 1988:12.
  5. Ursery S. $1.3M verdict coaxes a deal for doctor’s coerced rehab. Fulton County Daily Report. May 12, 1999b 1999.
  6. . AMSAODD News. Vol III. New York, NY: American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies; 1988.
  7. Membership Campaign Update. ASAM News. Vol VIII: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 1993:11.
  8. . ASAM News. Vol 12. Chevy Chase, MD: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 1997:20.
  9. http://www.abam.net/about/history/.
  10. Kunz KB, Gentiello LM. Landmark Recognition for Addiction Medicine: Physician certification by the American Board of Addiction Medicine will Benefit all Addiction Professionals. Addiction Professional. 2009. http://www.addictionpro.com/article/landmark-recognition-addiction-medicine.
  11. Tontchev GV, Housel TR, Callahan JF, Kunz KB, Miller MM, Blondell RD. Specialized training on addictions for physicians in the United States. Substance abuse : official publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse. Apr 2011;32(2):84-92.
  12. http://www.asam.org/about-us/mission-and-goals.

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