Opioid addiction has become a significant problem in America in recent years, commanding the attention of medical professionals, public health advocates, and government officials.

Overdoses from opioids, whether prescription or heroin, have impacted communities large and small.

Counselors are among those on the front lines of opioid addiction treatment. “Opioids have a significant impact on the brain,” says Eileen O’Mara, a Capella University core faculty member who has worked in the field of addictions treatment for more than 40 years. “Part of our job as counselors is to educate people about just how addictive opioids can be. Once the opioid receptors in your brain are activated, they want more.”

Counselors play a vital role in coaching people after initial treatment. They help people identify their triggers and unhealthy influences, and work with them to develop new, healthy behaviors. They sometimes serve as a sounding board for people and must be empathetic to the challenges faced by clients.

Until recently, opioids were widely prescribed by medical providers as a way to treat pain. But taking opioids for even a short period of time can result in addiction, and in many cases individuals who had never dealt with substance abuse became hooked on the drugs. “I’ve known 80-year-old grandmothers who became addicted to opioids,” O’Mara says.

Government agencies, hospitals, and treatment centers are working together to reduce the use of opioid painkillers, says Capella addiction studies core faculty member Ann Melvin, PhD. In fact, the U.S. government has committed millions of dollars to fight the epidemic.

At the moment, the possibility of solving America’s drug problem looks daunting. But Melvin, like many others, is optimistic. “We have a long way to go in fixing the opioid epidemic, but we’re making great strides,” Melvin says.


Learn more about Capella’s Master’s Degree Program in Addiction Studies.