Conference Held at William James College Explores Opioid Epidemic

July 30, 2019

Massachusetts is at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. According to a study conducted by Andrew Bagley, vice president for Policy and Research at the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, Massachusetts saw an average of 30.2 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people in 2016—up from an average of below 10 just six years prior. In comparison, the average number of opioid-related deaths for the United States as a whole was 13.1 per 100,000 people that same year.

Bagley was among the speakers at a Newton-Needham Chamber conference ‘how opioids are harming our businesses, our economy and our families,’ held at William James College in June. Other speakers included William James College President Dr. Nicholas Covino; Medical Director of Pain Management at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Dr. Antje Barreveld; and Founder of O’Connor Professional Group, Arden O’Connor. The conference explored the opioid crisis and its effects on all aspects of the workforce.

“This is not only a large problem, the trends are even scarier,” said Bagley, “There’s no reason to believe that [the trends] are not going to continue to grow, but it’s not only the size of the problem it’s the breath of the problem. It affects communities, emergency rooms, the health care system, state government. There is no system in the Commonwealth that does not see the impact.”

Speakers at the event told stories about people they’ve met who have been affected by the opioid crisis. Discussions also explored treatment options and the stigma surrounding substance use.

Barreveld told attendees she hoped to illustrate that there is a path to recovery for patients. “I want to fire that hope in you and help you to see that treating opioid use disorder is something we can do and that there isn’t one path to recovery,” she said. “We are here to support our family members, our community and our patients.”

Dr. Covino spoke from the behavioral health perspective and the efforts William James College is taking to address this epidemic. “This is a serious epidemic and we do not talk about it,” said Covino. “This is a health care crisis that no one talks about. It’s a health care crisis we don’t fund, we don’t educate people on, and it’s one that costs us billions of dollars.”

Covino also emphasized that recovery cannot happen without the necessary workforce to provide treatment. We as a community, he said, need to train more mental health professionals and build a better workforce to address the issues related to opioid and other substance use.

Starting in Fall 2019, William James College will offer a Substance Use and Addictions Area of Emphasis for the Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and a Substance Use and Addictions Concentration for students in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Services completion program. This new specialty provides a focused course of study for students who are interested in substance use and addiction assessment and treatment, preparing them for optional licensure as alcohol and drug counselors in the state of Massachusetts (LADC) or nationally as certified alcohol and drug counselors (CADC).

Covino ended the conference encouraging collaboration across fields and professions to create lasting change in the opioid crisis and issues surrounding substance use. “The hope [for this conference] was that we’d stop thinking in silos about our work,” he said, “This is a space that really needs us to be informed and active and we’re grateful to folks who are doing work in this space.”