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Hill briefing on opioid crisis emphasizes extended and balanced services

April 10, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Carol Smith, PhD, believes that nearly every disorder in the DSM has some roots in the past experience of trauma. So when she appeared last week at a congressional briefing on the opioid crisis organized by the American Counseling Association, she prominently included trauma-related clinical competency among her recommended components of crisis response.

Smith, an associate professor at Marshall University in West Virginia, tells Addiction Professional that while she did not get a clear sense of how the April 4 briefing might affect specific policy directions in Washington, it did appear clear that a broader awareness of the opioid crisis's reach has taken firm hold on Capitol Hill.

“I get the sense that some legislators are starting to deal with the epidemic in their own family,” says Smith, who works in the university's clinical mental health counseling program. “This problem is so widespread.”

The congressional briefing was organized to highlight the role that professional counselors can play in responses to the crisis, and Smith says she emphasized in her remarks the importance of counselors in fulfilling the long-term support needs of the opioid-dependent patient. Dual competency in addiction and mental health, and treating addiction as a trauma-related illness, are important features of treatment, Smith believes.

“My goal is to create as many trauma-competent counselors as possible,” Smith says.

Balanced strategy

Smith says that one of the other presenters at the briefing, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) medical officer Melinda Campopiano, MD, discussed the importance of medication treatment as a potentially life-saving intervention. Yet she adds that the comments from the SAMHSA official also emphasized that medication “is insufficient in and of itself to meet the whole problem.”

Patients who become dependent on opioids will need extended support, Smith says, and this is where counselors' competencies come in.

Smith adds that she is deriving great satisfaction from participating in activities beyond clinical practice and training. “I'm learning to be an advocate,” she says.