Two addiction counselors at a Philadelphia area drug rehab program died from opiate overdoses this past week. They both worked as live-in counselors, helping to treat newly recovering addicts at the small halfway-house.
This is an occurrence which highlights the severity of the opioid epidemic that our country is currently facing and how watered down many of the treatment options available to those seeking help have become.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are approximately 2.1 million Americans who currently struggle with opiate addiction and deaths from opiate overdoses have more than quadrupled since 1999.
This explosion in opiate abuse has led to a massive strain on the addiction treatment field and has led to a large number of newly opened drug rehab facilities across the country in order to meet the growing need for substance abuse treatment. While many of these facilities are appropriately staffed with licensed and experienced counselors, some of them are more concerned with hiring cheaper, non-licensed individuals in order to maximize profits at the expense of patient care.
This leads to outcomes like the one that happened at the treatment program in Philadelphia. While it is not uncommon for most drug rehab facilities to employ people who are recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, many less reputable facilities will hire people who have just graduated their program to offer direct patient care because it is much less expensive than hiring an extremely qualified and licensed clinician.
HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN?
While this particular story has gotten a lot of media attention, it is unfortunately not as rare as you may think. Drug use by staff members of treatment facilities is something that is becoming more and more common these days. This is largely due to the drastically increased supply of jobs in the addiction treatment field.
Someone who has personal experience in recovery can be an extremely useful asset to a treatment facility. They are in a unique position to be able to relate to the people they are hired to help and are able to offer their own personal experience on top of their professional experience. That being said, a recovering addict or alcoholic should be grounded and stable in their recovery before setting out to help others struggling with addiction. While many programs have minimum sobriety requirements, sometimes multiple years, other programs have no such requirements. It is not uncommon to find programs that have staff members with as little as 30 days of sobriety in charge of caring for multiple other recovering addicts, which is absurd.
It is true that no matter how long someone has been clean from drugs and alcohol, there is a possibility of relapse. That is the unfortunate nature of addiction. However, the relapse rate for recovering addicts goes down the longer they stay sober. So someone with 5 years of sobriety is much less likely to relapse than someone with 5 months of sobriety. Therefore it should be expected that as some treatment centers lower their employment requirements to dangerously low levels, things like this will continue to become more frequent.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A DRUG REHAB IS REPUTABLE?
Sending yourself or a loved one to a treatment center is typically a lifesaving decision and it is vitally important to make sure that the facility you have chosen is able to offer the best care possible. While many programs can advertise fancy accommodations and vague treatment methods, there are a few questions that you can ask to get a straight answer as to the quality of care that they offer.
Is the facility licensed and accredited?
There are various accreditations that treatment facilities can be awarded. The most prestigious is the Gold Seal of Approval from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations. For a facility to receive this they must pass an extensive and in-depth review by the organization. If a program does not have this accreditation, it is a huge red flag.
Are your counselors licensed?
There are various forms of licensed counselors which range from marriage and family therapists to substance abuse and mental health counselors, most of which require a graduate degree and a board examination. These professionals are highly educated and qualified to treat those struggling with substance abuse. If a program does not have licensed professionals working directly with its patients, they may be receiving substandard care.
Is the program dual-diagnosis?
Substance abuse disorders are often times co-occurring with other mental and behavioral health disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It is crucial that these other issues are treated simultaneously with the substance abuse in order to maximize the chances for long-term success. Patients who leave treatment with other unresolved issues are at a high risk for relapse.
What forms of treatment are offered?
There are many different forms of treatment and it is important to know the difference before deciding on a treatment program. An inpatient type program is almost always recommended for someone at the beginning of their treatment as it offers more structure and time for intensive treatment. Be wary of programs that only offer treatment a few days a week.
Does your program have a medical team?
Discontinuing most drugs, like opiates, often times come with severe withdrawal symptoms that can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. It is important that people who are quitting drugs or alcohol have some sort of medical supervision during the initial phases of their treatment. If a program doesn’t have a medical staff they may not be able to offer the safest treatment environment.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
As the opiate epidemic continues to grow in this country with no end in sight, it is more important than ever that there are as many reputable and high-quality drug rehab centers available to those that need help than ever before. If we as a society want to overcome this deadly epidemic then we must ask ourselves if we are offering the proper treatment to those that are afflicted. Too often families and individuals are receiving treatment at programs that are not equipped to adequately treat them and this has led to abysmal relapse rates. Treatment of the disease of addiction is something that requires long-term intensive care that is done by licensed professionals with years of education and experience.
When there are programs that have staff members who are barely sober themselves tasked with treating a chronic and fatal disease, something is extremely wrong.