Addiction medicine advocacy

Fighting for what’s right: How a Pennsylvania DO is supporting patients who are battling addiction

Working with state and specialty societies, James Latronica, DO, has focused his advocacy efforts on patients with substance use disorders.

“I just kind of fell into it,” James Latronica, DO, explains as I inquire about how he became so involved in working with an oft-ignored population. Patients with substance use disorders need strong advocates in their corner, and Dr. Latronica is just that. With everything he does in his addiction medicine practice and with various Pennsylvania medical societies, it seems that he was meant for this advocacy work rather than just falling into it.

Addiction medicine advocacy

Working with state and specialty groups in recent years, Dr. Latronica has advocated for safer prescribing of controlled substances, reducing the stigma surrounding substance use disorders, legalization of fentanyl test strips, harm reduction strategies such as syringe services programs, and decreased restrictions of prescription buprenorphine for use as maintenance therapy in opioid use disorder. These are just a few of his many efforts in the area of addiction medicine and addiction medicine advocacy.

I had the privilege of meeting with him as he shared some insight into getting involved in advocacy, his recent legislative interactions and how state and specialty societies have facilitated a lot of his involvement.

Dr. Latronica is board-certified in family medicine and addiction medicine. He largely created his Pittsburgh practice around addressing the needs of those with substance use disorders. When not practicing clinically, he wears several different hats with a variety of organizations that call for his expertise.

Changing his approach

Before landing these leadership and advocacy roles, he was writing custom letters to connect with Pennsylvania lawmakers. Unfortunately, he met roadblocks using this approach. A colleague recommended that he connect with state and specialty societies. These societies would be able to facilitate and foster these relationships to more fruitful action, the colleague noted.

Dr. Latronica connected with several different organizations, including the Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association (POMA) and the Pennsylvania Society of Addiction Medicine. As his responsibilities within these organizations increased, he found that his connections were growing as well; something he affectionately calls a “domino effect of opportunity.”

Opportunity certainly found him. He recalls becoming involved with POMA in particular in early 2020. His initial focus was with committees and task forces; small, yet meaningful in that they focused on specific items he was passionate about. For instance, he had the opportunity while serving with POMA’s Government Affairs Committee to testify to the Pennsylvania legislature about the negative impacts of closure of a state institution for behavioral health.

He has brought his addiction medicine expertise to review, interpret and recommend legislative positions for other proposed legislative action to the committee.

The positions he has held have allowed him to use his voice to support a patient population he truly cares about. He is also creating relationships with lawmakers and others in the physician community who have the same goals.

‘It is never too late’

Though he was not always involved with advocacy, he frequently reminds medical students and residents that it is never too late to get involved.

“I found my way to these positions through activism and I enjoy encouraging students and residents who may have similar interests to connect to these organizations when seeking ways to be involved,” he says. Truthfully, this goes for any osteopathic physician who feels frustrated about a particular problem or legislation; reach out to your local state and specialty societies and make connections. Explore what has been done and what can be done to address your concerns.

Mentoring future physicians

Dr. Latronica is an “emerging leader of the osteopathic profession” as well as in the realm of advocacy, says Brenda Dill, POMA’s senior director of communications. She notes his involvement in POMA has not only led to the education of its members in substance use disorders, but also to the development of a mentorship program for medical students interested in addiction medicine.

This program, the Addiction Medicine Mentorship Program, which is run in partnership with the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine, matches medical students with a practicing addiction medicine physician for one year with the goal of publishing a case report or literature review by the end of the year.

This novel program will educate more future physicians on addiction medicine and likely spur greater interest in the care and treatment of patients with substance use disorders. POMA recently highlighted Dr. Latronica’s work in Pennsylvania and nominated him for the American Osteopathic Foundation’s Emerging Leader award.

Advocacy at the national level

While Dr. Latronica is making great progress in Pennsylvania for those with substance use disorders, more needs to be accomplished, and not just on the state level. Nationally, the AOA has also been involved with issues related to substance use disorders, most recently advocating for continued funding for the NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program. This program supports the recruitment and retention of health care professionals to expand access to substance use disorder treatment and prevent overdose deaths.

As Dr. Latronica can attest, the AOA and its many state and specialty affiliates have an abundance of resources for both novice and skilled advocates. To learn more and to begin your advocacy journey, start by exploring the links provided by the AOA on its advocacy page and consider registering for the Osteopathic Advocacy Network to gain access to current grassroots initiatives.

Related reading:

Physician advocacy: Tips for communicating with legislators via phone, letters and face-to-face

Under the gun: The physician response to gun violence in America

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