October Policy & Advocacy Update

Rising Addiction Rates Meet Workforce Shortage

James Curtin, MBA, LCADC

The Acenda Policy & Advocacy blog has addressed the subject of the ongoing serious workforce shortages in the fields of mental health and addictions counseling before, and we’ll continue to do so with passion and veracity. These issues are life and death.

At Acenda, we’re dedicated to moving lives forward. We know that the number of people suffering with substance use disorders has been and will continue to rise amidst the pandemic and for many years ahead. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of surveying and research to figure this reality out. You’d be hard pressed to find many who would disagree.

I write today about the need for our Policymakers, both on the federal and local fronts, to step up their efforts to increase addiction counselor workforce numbers across the country. Let me be very clear in expressing that I am not trying to denote any separation whatsoever between mental health counseling and addiction counseling, because that would be repeating mistakes that have been made for decades by both fields. For far too long, mental health counselors have not addressed addiction and vice versa. The truth is, silos in healthcare is costly and ineffective.

According to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, the state is in a, “behavioral health and addiction counselor workforce crisis”. The need for addiction counselors is projected to grow 31% by 2022. This projected need is far greater than other occupations.

Addiction treatment at Acenda is rooted in evidence-based and promising practices as designated by research and the field in general. Unfortunately, I still see examples of treatment approaches in our own state and across the country that don’t utilize vital evidence-based practices such as providing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid dependent patients.

We need creative approaches within the state and across the nation that will result in a vastly expanded addiction counseling workforce where graduates of formal educational programs enter the field with the competencies required to assist patients in achieving positive outcomes.

A recent white paper written by Senators Michael Bennet (CO) and John Cornyn (TX) entitled A Bold Vision for America’s Well-being” brilliantly discusses the need for local communities, where people with different backgrounds and perspectives can work together for the betterment of all and bring their communities to the table where creative solutions are identified. They write about the need to create an entirely different framework for all aspects of a plan to create a much improved and effective system of funding, regulating, and the need for an expansive workforce.

A prime example of a local effort right here in New Jersey is the Ocean County College’s Pilot Programs in Addiction Counseling. This specific curriculum models a new approach. Ocean County College is taking the initiative to train students and help law enforcement meet the needs of the local community.

We need similar educational and training programs designed to produce addiction counselors, at the ready, in every county throughout New Jersey.

The programs advertisement reads, “The Addiction Counseling Certificate of Completion program at Ocean County College provides a solid first step for students who want to become a drug and alcohol counselor and provides the mandatory core courses for them to earn their New Jersey credentials.” I applaud Ocean County College for taking a first step too.

As we look at take first steps within our communities to once and for all slow the death rate related to fatal overdoses, let’s push our Policymakers to take some giant steps and do it quickly. Lots of lives will move forward once we have the numbers of addiction counselors necessary. By using the states own numbers, the field of educated professionals will need to climb by at least 31% by 2022.

To help inform future legislation, Bennet and Cornyn are seeking your input! Submit your input to mentalhealth@bennet.senate.gov by October 8, 2021.

Lastly, I’d like to inform those that don’t already know that September was National Recovery Month, a great motivation to begin acting. It’s hard to meet someone today that has not been directly or indirectly affected by the opioid epidemic. On October 6th, we will celebrate our Annual Knock Out Opioid Abuse day in New Jersey.

Together, policymakers, community leaders, and trained addiction counselors can advocate for better addiction care and a brighter future.

-James Curtin, Chief Business & Government Relations Officer

View more policy & advocacy updates on the AIHI Blog