‘Addiction medicine is primary care’: Patients who visit their primary care doctor for opioid addiction treatment reduce their overdose risk, a new study suggests | Health & Fitness


PHILADELPHIA — As a primary care physician at Jefferson Health, Greg Jaffe helps his patients navigate diabetes and high blood pressure, flu shots and annual checkups — standard fare for a family medicine practitioner. But for many of his patients, he also oversees a type of care that most of his colleagues in primary care won’t take on: addiction treatment.

Jaffe had no intention of treating patients for addiction when he became a doctor. But in 2021, he began running a small, once-a-week clinic at Jefferson that prescribed patients buprenorphine, an opioid-based addiction medication. After patients are stabilized at the clinic, they are transferred to primary care physicians — including Jaffe — making their long-term addiction treatment more convenient.

Jaffe’s new slate of patients has opened his eyes to the benefits of providing addiction medicine along with primary care, as a kind of one-stop shop for patients who often face significant barriers to getting any kind of health care.

New research backs up this idea. Primary care physicians who care for people with addiction can prevent more people from dying of an overdose, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

People with opioid addiction are often referred to specialty treatment clinics — even if they seek help from their primary care doctor. But offering overdose-reversing drugs and addictiontreatment medication through routine primary care visits could help people with addiction lower their overdose risk and live longer than if they got treatment elsewhere, according to a new study published in JAMA Open Network.

The approach has challenges: Patients may not have an established primary care provider. And doctors may not be trained in addiction treatment. But in Philadelphia, doctors who have already integrated addiction treatment into their practice say it’s a strategy with big potential.


Some doctors, Jaffe said, don’t know much about addiction medications and may judge people who use drugs.

“Doctors don’t want ‘those people’ in their waiting room,” he said, but addiction is widespread enough that it’s likely primary care doctors are already treating patients with addiction without realizing it.

Jaffe has grown close with several patients in his addiction clinic who transferred to his primary care practice. He relishes the opportunity to address other health concerns they have outside of their addiction.

“Addiction medicine is primary care,” he said. “We can treat their opioid-use disorder, but we can also treat them as whole patients.”


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