DONNA | Behavioral Health Services Director

“More lives have been saved with this medication than any other type of treatment for opioid use disorder.”

I knew I wanted to get into the world of treatment and counseling after witnessing the courage that recovery took, especially with the obstacles like cost and lack of support. It’s why I trained as a therapist and an addiction counselor. This field offers this really rewarding intersection of medical and behavioral health. As the director of Behavioral Health Services for a treatment center, I’m able to interact directly with patients while also managing grants that will have a profound impact on substance use disorder across the state. 

There is no single way to help people struggling with a substance use disorder. We are all individuals and we need to be treated this way when it comes to medical issues. We offer our patients options like harm reduction and support programs, as well as medications. 

Sadly, stigma exists even within the mental health field. I’ve heard therapists say, “I don’t treat people with addictions because they lie.” First of all, many people who don’t have a substance use disorder lie in therapy. Second, not everyone who struggles with a substance use disorder is going to lie. But most importantly, when you refuse to treat people with substance use disorder, you leave them without essential support. I believe substance use and mental health issues should be treated similarly, especially because they often go hand-in-hand. 

Luckily, for behavioral health professionals, the medications for treating addiction are incredibly effective. There is a lot of clinical evidence demonstrating these medications’ effectiveness, especially when paired with other types of support. I tell other professionals that it’s not a cure-all or a miracle drug and that it won’t work for everyone, but when you look at the overall population, more lives have been saved with this medication than any other type of treatment for opioid use disorder. 

The fentanyl crisis is staggering. We see it showing up in urinalysis during patient intake, even if they’re not using opioids. It’s essential that we educate people who are using substances, even recreationally. Fentanyl test strips offer one way for people to be informed so they can use safely, an important part of a harm reduction approach. 

There’s an unfounded fear that harm reduction or destigmatizing substance use disorder will normalize it. That misconception leads to the idea that we must come down hard on people rather than be empathetic. But this mindset has not proved effective or productive. Instead, we need to acknowledge our fears. When we are responsible for that, we can approach the evidence and data to find the right solutions.