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Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Shortage of Addiction Treatment Counselors?

It was big news when the White House announced that he would ask Congress for $1.1 billion to be used for the expansion of addiction treatment services throughout the country. The call for funds comes in the wake of the realization that state funded treatment services simply cannot meet the growing demand, the result of the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. In a number of states, especially in rural areas, addicts are finding that they face long waiting periods to get a bed in a facility that can help them begin the road to recovery.

While the President’s call for funding was met with great approval from both addiction and public health experts, providing greater access to treatment will not do much good if there are not enough addiction counselors to treat the addicts who fill the beds that are created. In fact, there is a serious labor shortage in the field of addiction counseling, NPR reports. New research suggests that roughly one of every four substance-abuse clinicians choose to leave the job in the United States every year.

The shortage is not only affecting public addiction treatment services, private facilities have been affected, too. The Affordable Care Act, together with the Mental Health Parity Act, has given millions of Americans access to mental health related services. The director of a treatment facility in Keene, New Hampshire, Amelie Gooding, says she has been without a full-time counselor for a year and half, according to the article. Gooding has 18 beds available, but she has to leave three empty because of the counselor shortage.

"Everybody thinks, 'Oh, there aren't enough beds!' " Gooding says. "But there's not enough treatment staff to open more beds."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that addiction counselors earn an average of about $40,000 a year, coupled with stressful workloads in a field that centers around treating client pain can have an effect on many counselors, the article reports.

"For me, it got to be too heavy," says former counselor Melissa Chickering, who has a master's degree in social work and 10 years of experience and used to work for Gooding. She adds that one of the problems with addiction treatment, is that counselors often take on client's pain.

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