Dr. Andrea Barthwell is one of the most highly respected and well recognized names in all of addiction treatment. After all, she’s served as president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, received the Betty Ford Award from the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse, and has been named one of the “Best Doctors in America” in addiction medicine. What most people don’t know, though, is that but for the myopic vision of the Republican Party of the State of Illinois, we might also be calling her Madame President.
Dr. Barthwell was working in the White House in the early 2000s under President Bush as Deputy Director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. She resigned in July 2004, in preparation of a run for the United States Senate. The local party unwisely chose former United Nations Ambassador Alan Keyes instead and he went on to lose in a landslide to an up and coming political newbie named Barack Obama. Had Dr. Barthwell run, I’m sure she would have crushed that election just as she’s crushed every other obstacle she’s ever faced in her life. Imagine the possibilities.
Many people look at Dr. Barthwell’s long and illustrious career and take it for granted. She makes it look so easy. However, her accomplishments become more impressive when put them into proper context. We can’t ignore the reality of the times that shaped Dr. Barthwell’s life and passions.
She came of age in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. This was a pivotal time in US history but it’s not as if opportunity opened up overnight. As a woman of color, Dr. Barthwell had to overcome both racism and sexism to attain her goals. Incredibly enough, she lives her life “colorblind” as if none of that even matters. It’s just one of the many uniquely incredible aspects of this woman of tremendous character.
She graduated from the elite Wesleyan University and went on to medical school at the University of Michigan. She then participated in post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago and through the medical school of Northwestern University. She had a prestigious resume that gave her the pick of specialties, yet she followed her conviction toward the lower paid realm of addiction treatment. She saw firsthand how the disease was destroying entire communities and wanted to make a difference. That’s why she focused on helping pregnant women, ethnic minorities and the incarcerated. It’s also why she later went on to become an active member of both the White House Task Force on Disadvantaged Youth and the White House Domestic Violence Working Group.
Dr. Barthwell now makes much of her presence felt by tirelessly lecturing at conferences and operating the Two Dreams addiction treatment centers located in Chicago, the Outer Banks and New Orleans. Together with her husband Dr. David Barthwell, they form a formidable power couple advocating for the disenfranchised both in and out of addiction treatment.
For example, Dr. Barthwell has taken a firm stand on the ineffective administration of what’s known as the Parity Act. It was passed into law ten years ago yet it’s still not universally enforced. Mental health reimbursement, including addiction treatment, is supposed to be dealt with identically to that of general medicine but that’s proven not to be the case. Dr. Barthwell aggressively assists patients in receiving all the benefits that they’re entitled to and vigilantly pursues denials to get them reversed.
She’s also taken a position on Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT). It’s a hot button topic slowly gaining wider acceptance, particularly in light of the nation’s opioid epidemic. Dr. Barthwell suggests that the spike in opioid dependence comes with the silver lining of increased momentum to eliminate some of the restrictions that limits greater use of MAT. She believes that MAT combined with comprehensive, traditional addiction treatment is a realistic response to the overwhelming problem.
As if all that were not enough, Dr. Barthwell is widely published and has served on a number of national advisory boards and committees, most notably the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) Drug Abuse Advisory Committee and the National Advisory Council of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. She has additionally served on numerous editorial boards such as the Journal of International Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Research, the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice and the American Journal on Addictions.
So, how does someone like Dr. Barthwell attain such an incredible lifetime of achievement? True grit combined with an unwavering belief that anything is possible. It’s that kind of contagious attitude which helps us all realize that when it comes to gaining the upper hand against addiction, it’s truly not a matter of “if”, only a question of “when”.
The Honorable Andrea G. Barthwell, MD, DFASAM
Deputy Director, Office of
National Drug Control Policy (2002-2004)
Founder and Director, Two Dreams Outer Banks
Chief Medical Officer, Treatment Management Company, LLC
Past President, American Society of Addiction Medicine