Courtesy of The Hartford

The Yale Program in Addiction Medicine will collaborate with insurance provider The Hartford to develop a program to train medical workers to better combat addiction, pain management and opioid-related stigma. 

The collaboration, born from conversations around an opinion piece published in Fortune by The Hartford CEO Christopher Swift, will be made possible by a $150,000 donation from The Hartford to the Program in Addiction Medicine, or PAM. PAM Director David Fiellin and PAM Associate Director of Training and Education Jeanette Tetrault will oversee the project, with the goal of designing curricula, workshops and interactive modules for clinicians to better help victims of substance abuse. 

“For more than 211 years, we have provided people and businesses with the support and protection they need to pursue their unique ambitions, seize opportunity and prevail through unexpected challenges,” Adam Seidner, The Hartford’s chief medical officer, wrote in an email to the News. “This new collaboration aligns with our mission to underwrite human achievement.”

According to Seidner, the effort to overcome the stigma surrounding drug addiction is  multifaceted and requires the attention and engagement of all levels of government, businesses, community members and academic institutions alike.

This stigma is pervasive among medical workers as well as the people educating and supervising these workers, Tetrault said. She mentioned three specific contributing problems: improper language in the workplace, the perception of addiction as a “moral” problem rather than a “neurobiological” one and the lack of resources to address the first two. 

“The amount of dedicated curricular content [in addiction medicine] is woefully inadequate compared to the need,” Tetrault said. 

Keeping these issues, along with the logistical challenges of the pandemic, in mind, Tetrault and Fiellin are looking to engineer a platform where medical workers can take online lesson “modules” on their own time, while having the ability to interact live with the PAM educational team and ask any questions about the content. According to Tetrault, the curriculum is scheduled to launch by the summer of 2022 and will also be sent to a community of clinicians and physicians for analysis and feedback.

Fiellin explained that properly treating addiction patients extends beyond just removing the stigma. He said that clinical care for addiction victims, particularly people who also suffer from work-related injuries, requires streamlining and can often be “unnecessarily long.” Fiellin also highlighted that the use of opioids as a form of treatment for both acute and chronic pain is a conversation between medical workers and victims that oftentimes needs to be carried out more effectively. He hopes that this new pilot program will help bridge this gap of “decision-making” and ensure that patients are able to receive the best care possible. 

Though these status quos, have always existed, the pandemic has cast a new light on the issue. In an email to the News, Matthew Stefanko, vice president of Shatterproof, a partner organization committed to reversing the addiction crisis in the United States, explained that physical distancing during the pandemic pulled individuals with substance use disorders “even further away from their families, friends, healthcare providers, and support networks.” This often accentuated existing feelings of shame and helplessness. 

The Hartford hopes that this partnership with PAM will inspire other “public-private collaborations,” Seidner said. The company is also in conversation with several other non-profit organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to create better professional and public cultures surrounding mental health and substance use disorders. 

In a survey released in October, The Hartford and Shatterproof found that 65 percent of health workers believe substance use disorder is not a chronic medical illness. 

Brian Zhang covers COVID-19 and Yale New Haven Health, as well as housing and homelessness. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he is a student in Davenport majoring in English and creative writing.