Picture a cube. That’s how one person in recovery described the process of addiction treatment in the U.S. health care system.

“Everybody’s looking at their side…and I think it’s important that we look at it from all sides and see that it isn’t just one answer, it isn’t just treatment…” he said.

That individual was one of several people in recovery who presented or participated at the Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine’s (WISAM) Annual Conference, a multidisciplinary conference held October 4, 2015, on the UW-Madison campus.

Photo Slideshow

State Representative John Nygren
(R – Marinette) and Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PhD; President, Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine;
Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health
« of 14 »

Photos by Todd Brown, UW SMPH Media Solutions

A Broad Reach Across Professions and Counties

Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH) and president of WISAM, organized the event, which focused on collaboration across professions and life experiences.

Clinicians at all levels, including physicians, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and pharmacists attended, as did professionals from public health, law enforcement and the Wisconsin legislature. Joining them were patient advocates, individuals in recovery, family members and friends.

“Addiction is a big enough problem to bring people together.” - Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PhD

“Addiction is a big enough problem to bring people together.”
—Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PhD

In total, 96 people representing 21 professions, 58 organizations and 33 counties attended—the first WISAM meeting to have this type of reach.

Dr. Zgierska explained that the broad scope also reflects a recent shift in the American Society of Addiction Medicine, WISAM’s parent organization, to allow non-physician members.

“Addiction is a big enough problem to bring people together,” she said.

The Need for Coordinated Efforts

All of the presentations—by professionals and individuals in recovery alike—shared a unifying theme: addiction is an overpowering disease, but people can be helped if they receive appropriate and coordinated care.

Getting people that care, however, can be complex and difficult. Dr. Zgierska calls it an “uphill battle” due to limited screening for substance abuse in routine care, patients being lost to follow up, limited access to specialty treatment and insurance barriers, societal stigma, and other factors.

That’s why clinicians and other professions involved in caring for individuals with addictive disorders need to look at addiction through all sides of the “cube.” Only then can they picture the inside, understand the complexity of addiction and have the ability to effectively address it.

“There is an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, and it’s a public health threat in the U.S. and Wisconsin,” Dr. Zgierska said. “We need to partner and coordinate efforts across disciplines in order to provide an effective response to this epidemic.”

Support from Rep. John Nygren

One person who has worked to improve outcomes in addiction is Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), whose presentation opened the conference.

Rep. Nygren developed the Heroin, Opiate Prevention and Education (HOPE) agenda, a series of bills aimed at curbing harms of Wisconsin’s growing heroin and prescription drug epidemic. All seven bills of the original HOPE agenda passed unanimously in both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature, and were signed into law by Governor Scott Walker on April 7, 2014.

Rep. Nygren’s latest HOPE bill, which aims at stopping the illegal use of prescription opioids, was signed into law on December 8, 2015.

Building on Success for 2016

With attendees calling this year’s conference “uplifting” and a “call to action,” Dr. Zgierska and her colleagues are already planning to build on its success next year.

The 2016 conference will expand from one day to three, will accommodate more attendees, and will have a hands-on focus.

Plans include workshops that present research evidence and training in clinical approaches to common challenges encountered in practice, such as how to identify candidates for buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone treatments. Additional workshops will cover recommendations for administering injectable naltrexone, pain management in patients with alcohol or drug use disorders and management of pregnant women who have addiction. On the final day, physicians will also have the opportunity to become certified to prescribe buprenorphine.

The 2016 WISAM conference will take place at the Pyle Center in Madison, WI, Sept 28-30, 2016, and will welcome all individuals interested in collaborating toward reducing the impact of addictive disorders in Wisconsin.

Published: January 2016