American Society of Addiciton Medicine
Mar 4, 2022 Reporting from Rockville, MD
Physician Associate Shares How ASAM Boosted Her Career
Mar 4, 2022
After spending nearly twenty years in public health, Debra R. Newman, PA-C, MSPAS, MPH, felt it was time for a career change.

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American Society of Addictin Medicine


Physician Associate Shares How ASAM Boosted Her Career

After spending nearly twenty years in public health, Debra R. Newman, PA-C, MSPAS, MPH, felt it was time for a career change.  

In the early months of 2008, she became a physician associate and landed in a FQHC (a federally qualified health center), where she found herself part of a network called Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a knowledge network based out of the University of New Mexico dedicated to rural and underserved communities around the world. There, she was assigned to multiple modules, including an addiction medicine and psychiatry module.  

“I had no idea that this would be something that I would fall in love with, but I did,” she said.  

Through Project ECHO, Newman helped treat addiction in patients who came from a variety of backgrounds. Her clinic happened to be located about thirty miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico – a region that, at the time, had the highest per capita heroin overdose death rate in the nation. There,  Newman treated a broad spectrum of patients, from well-paid professionals to even a monk. She served as the only full-time provider for these patients, but at the time, without an x-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, her work was challenging. 

The more Newman helped patients battling addiction, the more she knew addiction medicine was the right field for her.  

“Once I saw how people were suffering and the toll it took, not only on the patient, but on their families and on this poor community, there was no question,” she said. “There was no other branch of medicine that could bring so much healing and so much hope back to people's lives.” 

For the last five years, Newman has worked as the Treatment Provider for the Adult Drug and Mental Health Treatment Courts, First Judicial District Court, Santa Fe County, New Mexico. 

“More than 90% of the patients I treat have a history of trauma,” she said. “Just starting with really early childhood trauma, we could just tick off the social determinants of health and their early involvement with the criminal justice system.”  

As a result of her patients’ backgrounds, Newman said, most of them don’t trust anyone at first, including her. She works hard to earn their trust and help them with everything from supportive psychotherapy, medication, or simply being there to cheer them on when they need it – whatever she can do to be a hero when they don’t have many. 

 “I have to help them do it because they've been kicked to the curb too many times in their lives,” Newman said.  

Gregory Baca, MD, an addiction medicine psychiatrist who mentored Newman throughout her years as a PA, encouraged her to look into ASAM soon after Newman began treating addiction. 

“I started researching and exploring content online,” Newman said. “Initially, I thought, ‘Well, I can't be a member. I'm not a physician.’ After some time, a little light went off in my head and I thought I should contact someone and see if I could become a member. The rest is history.” 

As a member of ASAM, Newman has served on the Substance Use Disorder Program Planning Committee for several years. She helped develop a course called “Moving Beyond the Barriers of Treating Opioid Use Disorder.” She is also an assistant editor and the only non-physician member of the editorial staff of ASAM Weekly.  

Newman said ASAM has helped her in several ways throughout her career as a physician associate who treats addiction.  

“Keeping your finger on the pulse of what's going on in this field is critically important,” she said. “Things are changing all the time. We now are hit with this overwhelming problem with fentanyl. And that's not going to go away easily. We need to come up with novel ways of dealing with the incredibly sad tide of deaths in this country. Having like-minded colleagues to be able to speak with and having a centralized organization that has the same driving passion, I think is so vitally important.” 

Newman encourages the next generation of PAs to get involved in treating addiction medicine and find ways to serve with ASAM.  

“PAs love to learn and we just want to keep education moving forward,” she said. “There are so many wonderful opportunities to learn and to be involved. I'm so proud of PAs and the work they do for their community. Addiction medicine is community work. I feel like I'm a cheerleader, trying to get more of us involved,  and working to explain and express the importance of addiction medicine so every patient gets the treatment they deserve.”