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Ballad Health, ETSU partner to create addiction medicine fellowship
Addiction medicine fellowship program

JOHNSON CITY (June 20, 2018) – East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland and Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine announced today a partnership through which ETSU will apply to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to create a new fellowship program in addiction medicine. As part of its commitment to expand education and training in the region, Ballad Health will fund any un-reimbursed costs of the fellowship program, which, over a 10-year period could cost more than $2.5 million.

“In continuing with our mission to improve the quality of life for the people of this region, East Tennessee State University has partnered with Ballad Health and other important partners throughout the region to combat the opioid epidemic and other forms of addiction,” Noland said. “By investing in this new fellowship program, we are providing more avenues of treatment for those who call this area home and suffer from the disease of addiction.”

Noland credited the recent merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance with helping to push forward the goal to create the fellowship program.

“Ballad Health and ETSU are committed to working together to serve our region,” Levine said. “The expenditure of these resources to bring this new fellowship program is a great example of investment into something new and needed, and the resources will come from Ballad Health as a result of the synergies from the merger.”

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) formally recognized addiction medicine as a new subspecialty in March 2016. Certification by an ABMS-recognized specialty is considered the “gold standard” in physician credentialing, assuring patients that their physician meets the highest standards for training, practice and clinical knowledge. 

“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. Patrick G. O’Connor, M.D., MPH, and past president of the American Board of Addiction Medicine, adding that the recognition will “ultimately increase the number of physicians who are trained and certified as addiction medicine specialists.” 

The Addiction Medicine Foundation has established a goal of creating 125 fellowship programs by 2025. The recognition of addiction medicine by ABMS allows fellowship programs to seek accreditation by the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education.

ETSU will begin gathering the resources required for the application for fellowship approval immediately, with the goal of accepting the first fellows by July 2020. The number of positions included in the program has not yet been determined.

“This program could not get off the ground without the commitment from Ballad Health, and this is a great example of what can result from the partnership between ETSU and Ballad Health and our shared dedication to this region,” said Dr. Robert Means, dean of the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine. “We are both committed to helping our region emerge from the opioid epidemic much stronger, and more well-trained physicians will be critical to our success.”

According to the American Board of Addiction Medicine, 16 percent of the non-institutionalized U.S. population age 12 and older – more than 40 million Americans – meets medical criteria for addiction involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs.  This is more than the number of Americans with cancer, diabetes or heart conditions. In 2014, 22.5 million people in the United States needed treatment for addiction involving alcohol or drugs other than nicotine, but only 11.6 percent received any form of inpatient, residential or outpatient treatment. Of those who do receive treatment, few receive evidence-based care.

“In addition to the creation of this fellowship program, ETSU and Ballad Health plan to aggressively seek opportunities to expand research and residential treatment in collaboration with our regional partners,” Levine said.  “We believe we can make the case our region is worthy of investment by both Virginia and Tennessee and the federal government as funds are made available for research and treatment.”

ETSU researchers have focused on the opioid epidemic for several years. In 2016, the university established its Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, which focuses on research, prevention and treatment. Last year, ETSU and Ballad Health teamed up through that center to open the nation’s first academically driven, evidence-based outpatient clinic utilizing medication-assisted therapy.  The efforts of ETSU and Ballad Health were recently highlighted at a United States Senate hearing on the opioid epidemic.

“ETSU’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment is the catalyst for the opportunities that lie ahead, and we are grateful for the investment by Ballad Health into this vision,” Noland said. “As an institution of higher education with a focus on service, our priorities are to meet the workforce demands for the professionals needed to work in our region and to use our research potential to make a difference here and around the world.” 

Dr. Jerry Blackwell, chief clinical officer of Ballad Health, expressed gratitude to the university for its efforts.

“On behalf of the physicians throughout the region who are working so hard to help their patients deal with addiction, we are grateful for this commitment by ETSU to meet these physician workforce needs. Ballad Health remains committed to ensuring there are plenty of opportunities for these fellowship-trained physicians to help our patients,” he said.

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