This is exclusive breaking news from Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly.

Starting September 5, there will be a new structure in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) focusing on medicine and medications, ADAW has learned. SAMHSA will add a chief medical officer (CMO) within its new Office of Policy, Planning, and Innovation (OPPI). The CMO will head up all clinical activities at the agency and will be assisted in OPPI by another medical officer who specializes in substance use disorders (that position is still to be filled). There will also be a nurse practitioner in the OPPI assisting the CMO.

SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) already has a medical director: Melinda Campopiano, M.D. The Center for Mental Health Services will also be getting a medical director. Mitra Ahadpour, M.D., is the director of CSAT’s Division of Pharmacologic Therapies.

Anita Smith Everett, M.D.

SAMHSA’s new CMO, Anita Smith Everett, M.D., is an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. ADAW interviewed Everett today for this exclusive report on her new appointment. Sitting in on the interview were CSAT Director Kimberly Johnson, Ph.D., and OPPI Director Monica Feit, Ph.D.

“I don’t think you can practice modern psychiatry without having a lot of experience with the broad issue of drug use,” Everett told ADAW. As the administrator of a community health center at Johns Hopkins, she has extensive experience with clinical treatment and program administration. Baltimore’s opioid problems are significant, she said, adding that it’s now unusual to have anyone come into the center who hasn’t had a relative who died as a result of an opioid overdose.

However, alcohol is a problem as well, she said. Johnson agreed. “I know that opioids have gotten a lot of press, but numbers-wise there are many more people with alcohol use disorders than opioid use disorders,” she said. “So most of our programs do treat alcohol.”

Medications

SAMHSA is going to encourage the use of medications, not only in the treatment of opioid use disorders, but for alcohol use disorders as well, said Johnson. “That’s why we’re premiering the new structure for SAMHSA in terms of having a chief medical officer,” she said. “We need to increase our attention to how medication can treat people.” And Everett had particular praise for Vivitrol, because it bypasses the medication “adherence” problem that some patients have, she said.

With the election coming up, many people wonder what will happen at SAMHSA. “This structure is going to be put in place regardless of what happens in the fall,” said Feit. “This is a structure that’s important to SAMHSA — to provide the structure that we need. Having clinical expertise front and center is critical.”

Asked for her best recollection of helping a patient recover, Everett cited a patient she treated for alcoholism. “This was in the old days of a 28-day residential program,” she said. “In my office I keep in a frame an envelope I got back from that patient, who wrote ‘Thank you’ on the back,” she said. “I keep that in my office as a source of inspiration for me.”