David Mee-Lee, MD, DFASAM, Named ASAM’s Educator of the Year
David Mee-Lee, MD, DFASAM, has been on a special personal mission during the last three decades.
The former Editor-in-Chief of The ASAM Criteria® has led day-long workshops, keynote presentations, conference breakout sessions, and webinars helping physicians and other behavioral health professionals understand the Criteria, which is widely used for assessment, service planning, and level of care determination for addiction treatment.
“That process of trying to teach people about these criteria and to help change the way we deliver addiction treatment, moving away from program-driven treatment to more person-centered and outcomes-driven treatment, has really been the message that I've been talking about for 30 years,” Dr. Mee-Lee said.
Throughout the years, Dr. Mee-Lee has seen The ASAM Criteria go from “nice to know” to “need to know” for states and treatment providers.
“People often still think about addiction treatment as somebody entering into a program for a fixed length of stay from which they graduate,” he said. “With The ASAM Criteria, I've helped people move to treating addiction as the chronic medical condition it is, which means we need to have a continuum of levels of care and use disease management methods, the way we do with other chronic illnesses. Having people enter a program with which they must comply and from which they graduate is really not a chronic disease model. Our industry needs to teach people about changing the way the medical community treats addiction and designs addiction treatment delivery systems.”
This year, ASAM has selected Dr. Mee-Lee to receive its Educator of the Year Award.
“I'm honored and gratified that the work I've done has been impactful enough to get that kind of recognition,” said Dr. Mee-Lee, president of DML Training and Consulting. “It’s a real honor and privilege to have been chosen.”
Now semi-retired, Dr. Mee-Lee estimates that he has averaged about 80 presentations during each of his 25 years as an educator, reaching thousands of physicians and other healthcare professionals.
In his presentations, he’s also covered topics such as How to Help People Change, Co-Occurring Disorders, Person-Centered Services and Treatment Planning, Understanding Addiction, Organizational Development, and Justice Services and Treatment.
“I've always taken the view to only talk about things I passionately believe in,” he said. “It’s never been a chore in any way. The work I've done has been very mission-driven, and it’s something that I'm passionate about. I think that comes across to people that this is not just a job for me, where I'm just doing a training for the money, but it's really a mission to improve services for people with addiction.”
The most rewarding part of being an educator, he said, is receiving feedback from physicians and others about how they are going to make changes based on training he has provided.
“It’s been gratifying inspiring others to think of treatment differently and to improve their outcomes by being more person-centered, as opposed to getting people to comply with a program,” he added.
In 1977, Dr. Mee-Lee worked at an inpatient psychiatric unit, where he happened to be assigned to the addiction treatment team.
“I had to get on-the-job training from addiction counselors in long-term recovery who really helped me to learn and unlearn some things about addiction,” he said. “Before that, I had good psychiatric training, but not good addiction treatment training.”
As he worked with people on the front lines of treating addiction, he became more interested in the field. The fact that patients with addiction not only recovered but often dramatically improved their lives in doing so inspired him.
He enjoys helping patients look beyond themselves to get better, whether this means relationships with other people or God or their Higher Power.
“It’s really about helping people to get outside of their own head and to have a more transcendent view of what healing can be,” he said.
By 1981, he was doing administrative work and running a private practice. Four years later, he joined a company that was implementing addiction treatment programs in hospitals throughout the country. In 1996, he became a full-time trainer and consultant.
Since joining ASAM in the early 1980s, Dr. Mee-Lee said, he’s seen the Society grow into a powerful force for the advancement of addiction medicine.
“It really has become the primary source for influencing the medical field, but also the general healthcare field,” he said. “I have seen the important influence that it has had in shifting attitudes and education and knowledge about addiction in the medical field, but also in the general health field. It’s been gratifying to see its increasing impact.”
Now, Dr. Mee-Lee said, it’s time for the younger generation entering addiction medicine to continue the important work of changing perceptions.
“Addiction is still a very stigmatized and discriminated-against illness,” he said. “We all need to keep raising the consciousness of the general healthcare system, but also the general public, about the importance of talking about addiction.”
Although Dr. Mee-Lee is transitioning into retirement and not taking on any new presentations, he’s not yet done being an educator.
“I'm just doing things that I still feel passionate about,” he said. “I continue to work with contracts that I have. I'll continue doing a bit of work, probably until nobody asks me to speak. That's when I know I'll fully retire.”