Dealing with Substance Use Disorders: Probation Officer Perspective

While working as a probation officer in the City of Chicago's Cook County for more than 15 years, I've gained invaluable experience helping recovering drug users, dependents and addicts which I now feel the duty to share with others. As a probation officer in a social worker setting, we have the unique opportunity of mentoring and guiding our clients after their poor decisions - many of which were drug related, resulted in them being placed on probation, as an alternative to prison. Dealing with clients addicted to substances is one of the most difficult tasks as an officer, as many substance users will resort to almost anything to get their next "fix." As an officer that manages a caseload of over 100 clients, in an over-populated criminal justice system, it's not always feasible that each client suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD) or recovering addict can receive the adequate individual attention and resources needed to keep this client from re offending or relapsing.

 

Many of the officers in our understaffed department have felt helpless for far too long which has hindered us from our ultimate goal: to make a positive impact leading to positive behavioral changes in our clients. With an overloaded caseload being a major challenge that probation officers face daily, there are many times that we are unable to offer the current or recovering substance use addicts the proper time and resources that they desperately need to get clean and avoid relapsing. There is only so far, we as probation officers can go, to help our clients in need. We refer many, if not most of our clients suffering from substance abuse disorders to inpatient or outpatient substance use recovery treatment programs; however, many of these programs have been limited in what they offered the client. Too many of these programs had prescribed our clients methadone alone to fight their opiate addiction. After years of seeing the affects of methadone alone, it appeared that it was just another drug that replaced opiates. Our biggest struggle working in a county that is already understaffed and over budget is our lack of resources. Our social service workers and probation officers are in dire need of more resources, far beyond the scope of methadone and 90 to 120 treatment programs, to ensure that our clients suffering from opiate addiction will receive the professional help needed to make a full- and long-term recovery. Our clients suffering from past and present substance use disorders are in need of consistent and comprehensive counseling, an alternative to methadone alone, and a long-term treatment plan that goes well beyond just fulfilling a simple court order of their probation sentence. Our clients, as well any person struggling with a substance use disorder deserve much better. Rome wasn't built in a day and the real solution in our journey to fight opiate addiction is a comprehensive and individualized treatment program combining medically assisted treatment (MAT), psychiatry, individual and group counseling all under one roof.  The system needs to shift to this mindset, its a process that deserves as much attention as any other vital issue that we are facing in society today. 

 

 

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