Opioid crisis leads to social work workforce shortage

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

The nation’s opioid crisis is creating a new threat in some of the hardest hit states: a social work workforce shortage in child welfare and addiction treatment.

Opioid epidemic and drug abuse concept“The demand for social workers has always been high, but it is particularly true now,” says Michael Patchner, university dean at Indiana University School of Social Work.

The need for social workers led to a remarkable record at the school of social work in May.

One-hundred percent of social work undergraduate students who responded to a university survey asking about their plans after graduation said they either had a job or were furthering their education.

“We were the only unit with a 100 percent placement rate of the whole campus, which has around 30,000 students,” Patchner said.

The dean issued a press release about the statistic, which included his theories of why the workforce had reached new heights.

The Associated Press picked up on the news and it was published nationwide, including U.S. News and World Report. It noted the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that social worker employment will grow by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024.

According to Patchner, addiction to opioids is just one facet of the problem. Those suffering from addiction often cannot take care of their children properly, so their children are at risk.

That spills over to the child welfare system, he said.

“There aren’t as many treatment facilities as are needed in Indiana,” Patchner said. “Therefore, we have a lot of outpatient work providing treatment. There is just a need to address all of these social problems.”

He said he produced the press release in hopes of demonstrating that, nationally, social work is a very viable career.

“Often students in high school will not think about social work as a career,” Patchner said. “They enjoy helping their friends with their problems. They would like to have a career to do this kind of work.”

From the October 2017 NASW News. Read the full story



  1. Raju Tamang Ghising

    I have been in this field for almost two years and have already done my very first research on Opium affected youth especially in East belt of Northeast region India. However we could say that this is the much burning issue which is prevalent among youth between 18 to 25 years old. My paper is almost covered the issue related to youth and opium culture only. Hope to look forward for more comprehensive outcomes.

  2. To encourage more applicants for our open Social Worker positions here in Indiana, we now offer 5 weeks of vacation, holiday pay, and some locations repay student loan debt. Yet, we still have multiple openings.

  3. Another issue is that lcsw’s are not afforded interstate reciprocity. Why should we have to undergo the entire testing / examination process from one state to another? This is ridiculously asinine. When will the lives of people take precedence over monetary greed. I served as a social work officer in the military. I served honorably, and now i am required to test again because they tell me i did not renew my license in the state i was originally licensed. We as social workers must organized to put an end to this foolishness. The NASW is obviously complicit in this nonsense and should be ashamed of themselves. Reciprocity fo social workers now.This way states experiencing greatest shortages or needs could offer incentives to successfully recruit Licensed Clinical social workers. Our society is in urgent need of vital mental health services while politicians and bureaucrats are playing gigantic games of greed. Its a shame. Allowing social workers reciprocity could perhaps assuage the problem with shortages.This seems a ” no brainer”. What’s the hold up. This is not rocket science at all.

    • There may come a time that the crisis is so huge that the Federal government steps in and asks the states to accept licensure across state lines. The states may have a fit, but if they are so short on social workers they may not put up too much of a fight. We’ll see…

  4. Corrections i e. Christ said : ” In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me “.

  5. It is a tough profession and the burnout rate is staggering. I’ve been an lcsw for over 25 years and its difficult not to internalize the sufferings you hear and see. I’ve worked as a military officer and on the civilian side. My appreciation of military is now so great, as i saw how hard they work, and the tremendous sacrifices military families make. It was challenging and yet rewarding to be amongst the hardest workers on earth ( from my conjecture).The epitomy of “teamwork” . My faith and my wife has helped me to cope and remain sane. The toughest part for me is seeing children suffer. Meeting with colleague’s helps also i.e. when time permits. I agree, the pay could be better as moonlighting can be draining at times. My love for people and humanity drives me on. Additionally, i am constantly reminded that it is apart of ministry i.e. The Words of Christ resonates when HE said, ” In as much as you as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me”. Social Work is truly a rewarding profession and gravely misunderstood. Hopefully some day we began to become more valued appreciated.

  6. The organization I work for, Thompson Social Services, Inc. provides Representative Payee services by a licensed social worker. In my opinion, if this service was used more for people with addiction problems of all sorts, children and people with addiction would still have the shelter, food, clothing, etc. needed to live. A Rep Payee can be assigned for an adult and/or for the children receiving benefits. In order to utilize this service, a physician must fill out and submit a form SSA-787 stating that the person is unable to manage their social security benefits and needs a Rep Payee. The local Social Security Office can offer names and contact information for Organizations across the country that provide this service.
    The social security payments then go to the Rep Payee Organization and that organization is held accountable for how that money is spent. PLEASE BE AWARE. In my experiences as an addictions certified specialist, case workers that have little to no understanding of addiction. Both Rep Payee Organizations and County agency case managers in agencies such as Children and Youth are easily manipulated and triangulated against the agency providing rep payee services. A client can REQUEST a new Rep Payee, but the Social Security Administration DOES NOT have to reassign the person’s case, if it is not deemed necessary. The courts could also benefit from participating with these services. Feel free to contact me at Thompsonsocialservices@comcast.net if you are interested in further information.

  7. Unfortunately, the pay does not equal the need or the importance of social work. I have been one for 10+ years and the pay is far from what it should be. A lot of burnout with little pay leads to an ongoing shortage of SW’s.

    • Andrea K. Wiley, LCSW,MAC

      Hello my fellow social worker! Agreed, burnout is a potential and real hazzard of our profession and it is sensed that you may be heading for it. You do not have to risk having our profession losing you! There are solutions…sometimes a temporary break from what your regular job is may help to ultimately sustain your presence and action as a credible and appreciated social worker. Ongoing Self-care is a real need among those of us who are professional helpers. Self-care is probably one of the most responsible actions one can take as a competent and longlasting social work professional. I’ve been a professional social worker for 35 yrs and because of my passion for providing MH and SUD’s services throughout that entire time my mentors insisted that I observe that principle to help avoid/reduce compassion fatigue just as passionately. Now, as a clinical supervisor in those very fields I pass on that information and encouragement to my younger colleages because there will always be a need for you and what you do as a professional social worker!

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