ASAM Chapter Involvement Improves Member Practices -- Resources, Connections, and Ideas
A simple fascination with the human brain is what led Neha Pawar, MD, to treat addiction as a psychiatrist.
Specifically, Dr. Pawar – recently elected as an officer of the New York Society of Addiction Medicine (NYSAM) – became intrigued, she said, with how addiction seems to cause someone to almost “lose their free will.”
“They want to stop, but they cannot stop,” she said. “Why does this happen and how does it change our brain? And with addiction, it's not just limited to the patient. The ripple effects go into the family: the children and the spouse. It's a devastating, chronic relapsing disorder that leads to complex changes in our brain. All of this put together fascinated me and that's why I wanted to treat addiction.”
Dr. Pawar has been a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and NYSAM since her psychiatry residency, when she started seeing patients with substance use disorders. From 2015 to 2019, she did her residency in psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center (UOR). She proceeded to do her Pain fellowship under the Department of Anesthesia in 2020 and completed her addiction medicine/psychiatry fellowship in 2021 through the University of Rochester, NY. Dr. Pawar currently practices pain medicine at Wilmot Cancer Center at UOR and Addiction Medicine/psychiatry at Strong Recovery, which is an outpatient clinic through UOR.
As a resident, Dr. Pawar found ASAM’s various resources, including its published guidelines, conferences, and Journal of Addiction Medicine to be immediately helpful. “The ASAM journal has been very helpful because it publishes new data, new research and helps in guiding your practice,” she added.
She decided to join NYSAM after realizing that New York lacked policies supporting the more than 1 million people in the state who suffer from addiction.
“Patients with substance use disorders are criminalized in the society and need treatment and not punishment, " said Dr. Pawar. She believes people with substance use disorders need treatment and not punishment.
In addition, Dr. Pawar said, “I wanted to contribute to policy-making with the goal of increasing access to effective and affordable treatment and expanding prevention strategies for the affected population.”
As an ASAM and NYSAM member, Dr. Pawar has made connections with other physicians -- one of the many benefits of membership, she says.
“ASAM is very robust in terms of their networking,” she added. “When you go to their conferences, you meet different physicians from different backgrounds – not just psychiatry. They are from internal medicine, emergency medicine, etc., and you get to talk to them, exchange your views, and learn what they are doing at their institutes for treating addiction.”
In addition to helping her grow professionally, Dr. Pawar said her involvement in ASAM and NYSAM has benefited her patients as well. Dr. Pawar serves as a co-chair of ASAM’s Addiction Consult special interest group which allows her to communicate with other providers during monthly meetings and online. She enjoys the exchange of ideas.
“You make connections with not only physicians but providers, social workers, medical students, fellows, residents nurse practitioners – everybody in that consult group is coming together, describing what they're seeing, what the problems are, what works, what doesn't work and that is being provided by the umbrella of ASAM,” she said. “It helps to get educated and it helps others get your perspective. And then in turn enriches you as a person and makes you a better clinician.”
“With my unique background in pain and addiction, I try to look at the patient as a whole; pain and the substance use disorder are very closely linked, and I try to devise treatment plans which engage the patient,” she said. “Similarly, other physicians with different backgrounds in internal medicine, emergency medicine, or family medicine, are able to provide their experiences in that consult group of how to treat different problems of pain and addiction.”
Following the global coronavirus pandemic that drove addiction rates to new highs, and as the ongoing opioid epidemic continues, Dr. Pawar said that she challenges ASAM members to join their state chapter.
“At this point in time, it is a responsibility of all physicians to recognize addictions in our patients,” she said. “The first thing is recognizing, and the second thing is that we must offer them help. There are medications that we give to our patients that can not only help them but also can prevent the ripple effects that are devastating for their families. If physicians join their state chapters or if they join ASAM, they will gain knowledge equipping them to recognize addiction and then direct patients to where they can get help.”
After several years treating addiction, Dr. Pawar said she still finds it incredibly fascinating and rewarding.
“The most important thing for me is when I see the patient doing well,” she said. “They’re not using, and they’re trying to contribute to society. Not only that, they can then go home and take care of their children so the family moves as a unit toward a healthier future. That is very rewarding for me. Addiction is a generational disease. If I am able to give my patients the right treatment, I'm stopping the disease there for them. I'm being part of the solution. So that's very rewarding for me.”