Massachusetts town addressing opioid crisis: How can a psychology degree help mitigate the public health emergency?

Assumption College Undergraduate

After receiving word in March that the small town of Gloucester, MA had lost their fourth person in three months to a heroin overdose — the killer of over 8,200 people in 2013 alone, a death rate that has quadrupled in the past decade — Police Chief Leonard Campanello took immediate action, announcing to the public, “four deaths is four too many.”

Chief Campanello started an initiative in June called the Angel Program, in which people in search of help for addiction could come to the police station without fear of arrest.

“Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged,” Campanello wrote, “Instead, we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery.”

In the first month of the program, Gloucester helped 17 people, and as of September 187 people have found help through the program.

Drug addiction is a mental illness. It changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires. In addition, those with an existing mental illness or a history of mental illness are more likely to fall subject to addiction.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that individuals with an existing mental illness consume roughly 38 percent of all alcohol, 44 percent of all cocaine, and 40 percent of all cigarettes; those who have ever experienced mental illness consume about 69 percent of all the alcohol, 84 percent of all the cocaine, and 68 percent of all cigarettes.

Though there are many factors that contribute to mental and addictive disorders, for those who choose to work in the field of recovery and rehabilitation as a substance abuse counselor find a background in psychology beneficial.

The job outlook is promising for Assumption students pursuing their bachelor’s degree in psychology interested in working with and counseling those suffering from addiction through the recovery process.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors are projected to grow 31 percent by the year 2022, which is much faster than average. More so, Massachusetts alone has the sixth highest employment rate for these professions.

Since June, word of the Angel Program’s success has spread like wildfire, making national headlines and inspiring dozens of police departments across nine states to develop similar programs.

Those interested in learning more about the connection between psychology and substance abuse can take PSY181: Psychology of Adolescence and Maturity, where drug abuse specifically in adolescents and the connection to psychological disorders, along with many other topics are discussed.

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