"A major priority for us is engaging the medical community in screening for substance abuse," says Dowling. "We think it's a problem that affects a lot of people. A lot of those people aren't going to seek treatment on their own, but they are going to see their doctor. Physicians are really in a unique position to identify people who have substance abuse problems or may potentially develop them, but physicians don't routinely ask about substance abuse."
There are a number of immediate reasons why physicians aren't engaged in that dialogue, she says. "They don't have time, don't know what to ask, and are not comfortable with the issue. So we are taking a multipronged approach to address those." Showing the piece of Long Day's Journey into Night and subsequent discussions are among the "unique ways of addressing the physician who says: I don't feel comfortable with talking about this issue," Dowling says.
Also, NIDA's Addiction Performance Project "is a creative way for doctors to earn (continuing medical education) credit while raising the stigma issue associated with drug addiction," she says.
As NIDA officials tell it, a fraction of people who need specialty treatment for drug or alcohol addiction receive it each year. In 2009, more than 23 million people aged 12 or older needed such treatment for drug or alcohol problems. An overwhelming number – about 21 million – didn't get the help they needed. .
A lot can be done, though, to promote reduced alcohol and tobacco use. For instance, NIDA reports say that a growing body of literature also cites the benefits of screening and intervention for illicit or non-medical prescription drug use.