Recently I attended a conference on Substance Use Disorders, and I left the gathering stunned by how pervasive this disorder is in our society. It is not only ubiquitous, but, like mental illness, often not addressed adequately, underreported and misunderstood.
Even though it is believed that the stigma associated with substance use disorder results in underestimating the number of people affected, the statistics are nevertheless staggering. Eleven percent of all children in the country are impacted by substance use disorder. Regarding the children and families served by the child welfare system, 32% are affected and substance use disorder is a factor in the separation of a child from their family. Parents who experience substance use disorder increase the likelihood that their children may have developmental challenges because of exposure to substances before birth. If indeed these numbers do not truly capture the magnitude of the impact, then we are dealing with an epidemic that threatens the well-being of many of the children and families we serve.
The conference was an eye-opener as providers, clients in recovery and researchers demonstrated the broad scope of the problem and exposed the collective denial that exits. Stereotypes of depleted, desperate addicts were shattered by the testimony given by well-educated, gainfully employed and respected community members who were drawn into a cycle of substance use that threatened them and the well-being of all who cared for them. When you consider the impact one addict’s disorder has on their families, neighbors and community, you cannot but be overwhelmed and surprised at the lack of effective intervention.
Few of the children and youth we serve have not been impacted by substance use disorder, either because they themselves have used unauthorized substances, are at risk of developing a substance use disorder or have experienced the disorder in their homes. This disorder significantly contributes to chronic illness, low academic achievement, incarcerations, loss of employment and homelessness.
For awhile now we have been keenly aware of the impact this disorder has on those we serve. As a result, we have implemented a strategy to effectively address substance use disorder. Led by one of Hillsides Family Resource Centers’ program directors, Cindy Real, we have trained the majority of our staff to assess for any substance use disorder and address it in our clients’ treatment plans. Although we are not equipped to provide inpatient detox services, we have an assessment tool that helps to identify the issues and develop treatment approaches that reduce the risk of becoming addicted.
Our ability to provide early detection and effective interventions has enhanced our capacity to better serve our clients throughout the whole organization. For too long, the needs of those we serve has been seen in isolation from their overall health, such as substance use disorder, making for an ineffective approach to treatment. This comprehensive and holistic approach reinforces our efforts to truly create lasting change for all those we serve.