Heroin Epidemic Highlights Need for Therapists and Government Action

The recent epidemic of deaths resulting from narcotic opioids in Worcester and throughout the state has turned the spotlight on the field of alcohol and substance abuse counseling. The numbers are staggering: heroin overdoses in Boston have nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014, with similar figures elsewhere in the state, and no signs of stemming the tide.

There has always been a heroin problem on the streets, but today a white collar suburban user is entering a different front door to opioid use. In my opinion as a practicing therapist, the rapid growth in heroin’s popularity is a direct result of the increased number of prescriptions being filled by primary care physicians for pain medications such as oxycontin. When patients’ prescriptions run dry, some are likely to seek another drug to fill the void and heroin is the least expensive and most readily available. I have personally witnessed a flood of young men and women to our treatment facilities who are addicted to prescription pain-pills such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin.

According to a recent article in Worcester Magazine, law enforcement experts and addicts are attributing a percentage of recent heroin-related deaths to dealers who are cutting the drug with potentially lethal substitutes. Hardcore users are unable to quit even when having this knowledge. Meanwhile, many addicts are lining up for help, and state and city governments are attempting to make the response more timely. In January, Vermont Governor Shumlin dedicated his entire “state of the state” address to the heroin crisis and related crime. Last February, Boston mayor Marty Walsh was among the first to equip first responders with Narcan, the non-addictive overdose reversing medication which is now being used in Worcester. I have always viewed Narcan no differently than an emergency dose of insulin for a diabetic—to stabilize the victim’s vitals and prevent damage or death. Evidence consistently shows that in recovery from substance dependence, it takes the patient many attempts at treatment, and often many “failures,” before long-term sobriety occurs. Narcan provides many of our citizens with another opportunity to succeed, as the overdose episode and near loss of life often serves as the “rock-bottom” pivotal moment that inspires sustainable change.

Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a measure that requires insurers to cover inpatient addiction treatment, making it easier for patients to get detoxification services. It’s likely that government funding for rapid response strategies and treatment centers will continue to grow, and that bodes well for those interested in having a vocation that makes a difference in the field of substance abuse counseling.

CCE at Assumption College offers a certificate in Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counseling which prepares students for licensure and certification and can be combined with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies, on-campus or online.

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