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University of Central Florida's Opioid Workforce Expansion Program is Training the Next Generation of Addiction Counselors Like Pamela Duff

Photo: UCF, Pam Duff
Photo: UCF, Pam Duff

More than 90,000 Americans have died since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic from opioid overdose. The UCF Opioid Workforce Expansion program provides hands-on experience in addiction treatment to train more mental health providers to respond to this crisis.

WMFE spoke with Dr. Bryce Hagedorn and UCF student Pamela Duff about completing that program during the pandemic.

Read the full interview below. 

Danielle: Bryce, Orange, Seminole, Brevard and Osceola counties are designated as mental health professional shortage areas by the Department of Health and Human Services. Can you tell me a little bit about how the new Opioid Workforce Expansion program is kind of aimed at reducing that that huge need?

Dr. Hagedorn: Those specifically who participate in the Opioid Workforce Expansion program are exposed to specialized trainings that equip them to work with those who are impacted by substance use and opioid use disorders, as well as providing trainings and the provision of telehealth and tele-mental health.

Danielle: And, Pam, I know that you interned with Aspire as well as the Seminole County Correctional Facility doing just that learning about addiction treatment in different populations. What was different about it from just, you know, textbook learning that you might have gotten from your graduate program?

Pam: I actually learned that the the two populations aren't really that different, actually. I mean, yes, like there are some that are incarcerated, when I was working in the jail system, but they still have the same needs, they still need to, you know, have trauma informed care and cultural sensitivity applied to each of their cases, and they still need to be treated as human beings despite their circumstance. And I think that's something that is more important. And to keep in mind, like no matter what population you're working with, and especially with this one particular where, I don't know there's a heavy stigma attached to it.

Danielle: I know that you've accepted a position as an addictions counselor, and I was wondering, was it your work during the pandemic that made you kind of make that choice? Or was it something else, even in your personal life story?

Pam: It was a mixture of both. I mean, growing up, I've seen a lot of family members struggle with addiction. So that definitely played into it. And it kind of gave me the inclination that it might be a population that I would feel most comfortable serving. And when I did the internship during the pandemic, in those settings that really did confirm it for me.

Danielle: Bryce, the CDC issued an advisory in December about worsening drug overdose epidemic here in the US and Florida is one of 25 states with deaths increasing by more than 20% in the last year. What do you think is going to need to change when it comes to training mental health care professionals and just getting more people even just interested in pursuing the field?

Dr. Hagedorn: I'll echo what, what Pamela said about decreasing the stigma.

I think that's both from the practitioners' side about helping practitioners to recognize those who struggle with substance use and opioid use disorders don't have a character flaw, but actually have become a victim of a series of poor choices that are using substances either initially as prescribed or abusing substances as a way of mitigating some of your psychological pain and over a series of time have resorted to behaviors that sometimes have landed them in the correctional system and or who wind up in medical settings.

And so that's one of the things that current and future practitioners really need to know how to navigate the medical system. And that's one of the one of the emphasis of this grant program is to have the students participate in integrated care teams with students from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, social work, and counseling are interacting to provide wraparound services for patients who are struggling with opioid use disorders.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.