Indiana opioid crisis highlights shortage of social workers

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Indiana’s opioid crisis has exacerbated a shortage of social workers in the state, according to university officials.

Michael Patchner, dean of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’s School of Social Work, told the Journal Gazette  that there are shortages in social workers who deal with mental health, addictions, child welfare and medical social work.

“The demand for social workers has always been high, but it is particularly true now,” Patchner said.

Social workers aren’t just addressing addiction, but must also address child welfare since many addicts can’t properly care for their children, Patchner said.

Addicts and their relatives may need mental health counseling, addictions treatment and various other services, said Jan Nes, the social work program coordinator for the university.

“Social workers are involved in all of these areas from direct practice to policy and advocacy activities,” she said.

Tom Allman manages addiction services at nonprofit addiction treatment facility Park Center. The opiate crisis has highlighted the shortage of addiction therapists that’s been happening for some time, he said.

Agencies that haven’t had to address addictions are now faced with the issue, said Barb J. Burdge, social work program director at Manchester University.

All social work students at the university had internships where they worked with opioid addition, she said.

While graduates have received offers in a wide variety of social service settings, the opioid epidemic has been discussed in many job interviews and offers, she said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that social worker employment will grow by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024.

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