UT's New "Center of Excellence" Tackles Addiction Epidemic

Nov 16, 2016

Kevin Kunz of the Addiction Medicine Foundation, David Stern, dean of UT College of Medicine, and Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Science photographed at the Halloran Center on Nov. 15.
Credit Brandon Dill

Treating addictions -- from nicotine to the current deadly epidemic of opioids and heroin -- has just become another nationally recognized area of research in the Memphis medical community. 

The University of Tennessee's College of Medicine has been named a "Center of Excellence" by the Addiction Medicine Foundation. 

"We're the first United States medical school that has integrated addiction medicine into a community," said Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Science. "It means we are part of the fabric of the medical community, so that if someone comes to the emergency room and has an issue that is impacted by or need treatment for an addiction, the emergency room doctor can call us, just like he could call a specialist for patients having chest pain."

Integrated treatment is essential, and yet still rarely implemented, at a time when 26 percent of deaths in Tennessee are related to addictions. More than 1,200 Tennesseans died from opioid overdoses in 2014. Addictive drugs are also responsible for a third of hospital costs in Tennessee. 

Kevin Kunz, executive vice president of the Addiction Medicine Foundation, says that doctors are starting to view addiction in a different light. 

"Medicine has said 'Ah!' it's a disease physicians should pay attention to," he says. "It's a disease we should train physicians about."

He said that UT received this inaugural designation over older, better-known addiction institutions on the coasts because the Memphis medical community operates with a spirit of collaboration. Researchers here have gotten out of the so-called "silo mentality" in other places, he says.  

State Senator Mark Norris attended Tuesday's announcement at the Halloran Center in Downtown Memphis. He says that state and local governments have a responsibility to study the impact of addictions on both urban and rural communities throughout Tennessee. 

"This addiction problem: it affects everything we do in this community one way or another," Norris said.

UT's Center for Addiction Science has already treated hundreds of patients since it opened last July.