Another Opioid Epidemic Challenge: Too Few Addiction Counselors

teenage girl suffering with depression in a conversation with a therapist

More addiction counselors are leaving the field at a time when demand for their services is increasing, NPR reports.

Addiction treatment professionals say the reason people are leaving include burnout and low pay. Addiction counselors earn an average of $40,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the toll of drug overdose deaths increases, communities are trying to increase the number of treatment beds, the article notes. The shortage of addiction counselors is hampering that effort.

The Affordable Care Act and other federal laws have allowed millions more Americans to obtain health insurance that will help pay for addiction treatment.

Amelie Gooding, who runs Phoenix House in Keene, New Hampshire, told NPR she has been short a full-time counselor for a year and half. “Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, there aren’t enough beds!'” she said. “But there’s not enough treatment staff to open more beds.” Because she does not have enough staff, she has had to leave three of her 18 residential beds empty. She has also reduced her outpatient groups down to 50 percent capacity.

Former counselor Melissa Chickering, who used to work for Gooding at Phoenix House, said addiction counselors take on their clients’ pain. She called the lack of funding and coordination from the state “criminal.”

Anne Herron, who leads workforce development for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, says her agency is trying to address the counseling shortage, in part by developing training curricula for high schools and colleges.

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    March 24, 2016 at 1:04 PM

    Alice’s comment is heartbreaking. I am an LICSW and LADC 1 and I feel that it is the stigma of both addiction and mental illness that affects the salary range and status of the helping professionals. If these illnesses were recognized and respected, so would the caregivers also be. I have been employed full-time in the field of addictions and watched as the insurance companies dictated levels of care, not those treating the patients. Now I am a Coordinator of a DFC-funded Coalition also (similar to Sharon) and I focus on the prevention end of the story, which plays better to the average citizen. Nobody wants to see teens get mixed up in addiction so prevention work is better received. But the terrible attitudes toward those affected by brain diseases have permeated everything that touches those illnesses: the patient, their family, their helping professionals, their treatment setting. Have you ever tried to site a safe and sober group home in a community neighborhood? You see what I mean.

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