Drug addiction up; need for counselors climbs

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J. Carbajal

Generational substance abuse is a local problem, counseling intern says.

By Collin Quezada


 Substance abuse and drug addiction are increasing problems in San Antonio, and city officials need to do more to solve the problem, Chris Lopez, graduate of this college’s human services program, said Sept. 26 in an interview.

“People aren’t bad; they just make bad decisions,” Lopez said, referencing the daily tribulations faced by addiction-riddled individuals in predominantly low-income areas of San Antonio.

Lopez is a counselor intern at the Northwest San Antonio Treatment Center.

With massive amounts of illegal substances, in addition to prescription drugs legally purchased at local pharmacies, a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration estimates more than 12 percent of the 1.4 million people living in San Antonio are likely to be addicted to some form of drug.

Frequent drug abuse and the consequential addiction to legal and illegal substances have destroyed the lives of countless Americans with an upward trend in drug-related deaths soaring past the 64,000 mark in 2016, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That death total has doubled over the past decade from more than 30,000 deaths in 2006.

Heroin, an overtly lethal drug when taken out of moderation, is the only one that surpassed synthetic opioids as the agent for almost 13,000 drug-induced fatalities.

San Antonio, much like the rest of the nation, faces a substance abuse epidemic in lieu of mass drug trafficking across national borders.

In San Antonio, over 795,000 pounds of marijuana, 8,000 pounds of cocaine, 500 pounds of methamphetamine and 110 pounds of heroin were hauled within the city limits in 2016, according to the San Antonio Police Department website at sanantonio.gov/sapd.

Lopez said the growing problem of opioid abuse is most visible among low-income residents. 

“In impoverished areas of San Antonio, they face struggles everyday and decide to turn to these substances,” he said.

This threat is intensified by the city’s close proximity to the Mexican-American border, where the flow of illegal substances being transported between South Texas and Mexico has labeled San Antonio as one of the country’s “high intensity drug trafficking areas” by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Additionally, the pre-eminent issues with drug abuse are not restricted to health complications later in life.

Many who break the law to acquire opiods and other drugs are “75 percent more likely to tumble down the slippery slope of the criminal justice system,” according to a 2016 report by the National Institute of Justice.

Lopez said many of the 620 to 700 patients treated everyday at the San Antonio Treatment Center where he interns are “young and troubled.” 

“Generational drug abuse is the real problem here,” Lopez said. “Children learn from their parents, and that becomes the norm.”

It’s common for adolescents to observe addictive patterns in a familial setting and develop addictions of their own, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The Northwest San Antonio Treatment Center is one of 10 treatment clinics in San Antonio that offer methadone, an opioid medication that Lopez said “blocks opioid receptors from that feeling of euphoria, allowing patients to function normally.”

Even then, the city’s funding for drug treatment institutions is largely inadequate, he said. He believes attention should be directed toward prevention programs.

“Opioid-specific prevention programs in elementary schools at low-income regions in San Antonio are essential,” Lopez said.

“We aren’t making a great enough effort to inform our youth of the consequences they may know of but don’t fully understand.”

The need for drug counselors will expand.

Courses offered under the human services program at this college provide students the means to become a part of the solution.

Without having to attend a four-year institution, students may become eligible for Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor licensure attainment and renewal, allowing them to work as drug counselors under the Texas Department of State Health Services after two years.

The human services program here was the first in Texas to be accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission.

A projected 22 percent employment growth rate is expected by 2024 in the drug counseling field, according to U.S. News, ranking the occupation as No. 5 in the best social services jobs to pursue.

This number will continue to grow under the new parameters implemented by the justice system as drug offenders are beginning to receive “treatment-oriented sentences” as opposed to jail time.

For information on the program, call Coordinator Ed Bergen at 210-486-1255.


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