As Drug Addiction Increases, Number Of Qualified Psychiatrists Shrinks


While inpatient and outpatient programs decline across the United States, so are the number of psychiatrists qualified to address issues of mental health or substance use disorder.

A report issued last month by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents nearly 3,000 mental health and addiction treatment organizations, showed that there’s a shortage of psychiatrists in the U.S.

Seventy-seven percent of counties are underserved, and the average wait time to meet with a psychiatrist is 25 days, according to the report.

“In every town in America, we see the unmet need—young pregnant women with untreated addiction living on the streets; older adults who are isolated, anxious, and at risk for suicide; men and women with mental illnesses released from jails without housing or access to care,” said Linda Rosenberg, CEO and president of the National Council.

Not only is there a shortage, but the number of psychiatrists is declining—it went down 10% from 2003 to 2013. Currently there are over 45,500 of them in the workforce.

The National Council offers some recommendations to reverse the trend, like increasing the use of “telepsychiatry” to reach more people who may live too far to make regular appointments.

“At a time when we are coping with the twin problems of a rising suicide rate and an out-of-control opioid addiction epidemic, we must act now,” said Dr. Joe Parks, medical director of the National Council.

The report also talks about embracing a holistic approach to health care, by emphasizing the importance of caring for both physical and mental health together. At a federal level, the report suggests that lawmakers promote policies that increase access to treatment—like Medicaid expansion—not reduce it.