NASW Social Justice Brief Offers Overview of Nation’s Opioid, Heroin Addiction Crisis

OpioidBriefCoverThe United States is gripped by an opioid and heroin addiction crisis.

The social work profession will play a valuable and key role in our nation’s efforts to address this issue.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Social Justice Brief Opiates in Our Backyard: Implications for Drug Policy, offers social workers and other mental health and substance use disorder treatment professionals an overview of the crisis, relevant data, treatment implications, and NASW recommendations to address this issue, among other information.

Take time to review the brief. And if you need additional information contact NASW Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson, MSW, LCSW, MBA at or NASW Senior Practice Associate Carrie Dorn, MSW, LMSW, MPA at


  1. Wow, great insights by the professionals who have posted here! I lost a brother to Vicodin overdose last November. He had an extensive number of Benzos, opiates, antidepressants, and other prescription medications in his system when he was found dead. He battled with this addiction almost his entire life.

    Working in healthcare for the past 13 years, combined with a 20+ year history of working in behavioral health, I understand the tightrope physicians walk when addressing pain. The two doctors and nurses in my family express their anxiety about doing the right thing for their patients, and the hurdles they jump in those efforts.

    Kudos to each of you, as well as NASW, for partnering to prevent opiate addiction. I bid you blessings and light.

  2. I understand the frustrations of Sarah Edwards. I am an LISW who has spent most of my career in the addiction field. With the growing awareness of the opioid epidemic in this country, many physicians have become worried about being seen as a pill pusher. I have had experience with doctor’s who were simply prescribing pain medications in an effort to make more money. As well, I have seen many well-meaning doctors who have become increasingly worried about prescribing these medications.

    One solution I believe is to give physicians more training in the field of addiction. That way they can feel comfortable recognizing the signs of a patient who may have become addicted. Also, they will understand how important detoxification is to patient’s who have been on pain medications for a short period, but still may suffer from withdrawal symptoms once use has stopped.

    Another solution would be to utilize more pain clinics to help those with legitimate pain issues deal with proper dosage and learn skills to deal with pain issues.

    Finally, I would like to see government officials become more aware of potential issues surrounding addiction. From many officials I have heard from, they seem to think this epidemic is new. As an addiction counselor, I knew 10 years ago this was an oncoming issue as did my peers. We often saw young patients become addicted to pills which are expensive on the street switch to heroin which is cheaper. If officials were aware of upcoming issues in the field they would be able to formulate a more immediate response.

    I hope if we can make these suggestions a reality, we can better serve our clients and our communities.

  3. I am acutely aware of the issues addressed here. As a LCSW in private practice in a rural area with a large percentage of my clients being elderly or disabled, I see a totally different view about these medications. All and good to address their abuse but the result has been a nightmare for these individuals and other of my mentally ill clients.
    My clients don’t abuse their meds. They have finally have found ones that are enabling them to function and benefit from counseling so they are afraid to misuse them. It would mean too much suffering at the end of the month were they to be tempted to take extra ones. But doctors (all a considerable distance away and in short supply) are refusing to prescribe; cutting out their meds; lowering their dosage to levels that leave them in horrific chronic pain, depressed or anxious; requiring them to be seen more often or even refusing to continue having them as patients. Often they are humiliated in the doctor’s office, being treated as criminals when they come for med checks and refills. One doctor’s office locked my client in a room after her pee sample had been taken so she couldn’t go the car to check on her children while she waited for the MD. Our local pharmacy is refusing to refill these meds, making clients drive two hours or more to get them elsewhere and even being turned away or hassled at times there too.
    Most of my clients are living on a very limited income, so this is a difficult burden financially and also on their limited energy. It is hazardous in other ways too. Their cars are often not equipped to travel long distances over interstate highways, and they may not have the money for the gas that’s required at the time they need to see the MD, leaving gaps in taking their meds. This is a mess. These are meds you just don’t go off suddenly.

    Suicide is often a response they consider. Perhaps it will take a suicide epidemic of such responsible clients who are being denied viable access to their medication that keeps them stable and functional before there to be a more realistic approach to this issue.

    • I have worked in the addiction field all of my professional graduate social work field which started in 1979. I understand about the heroin addiction national campaign, which appears to focus on white people addiction. I work with inner city families in which crack addiction is just as important of an issues. I hate the fact that crack addiction is labeled as a criminal justice issue, (meaning police and prison time) and heroin addictionf labeled as a social phenomenon therefore getting everybody on board to help with that population. What about a national emphasis on both crack and heroin addiction, both of which is a major mental health crisis in this country that cannot be solved with more policing and not additional treatment intervention for both the individual and their families. I see the focus on heroin as a bias. In 2012 according to federal government statistic 9.5 billion was spent on domestic law enforcement and on 7.9 went for prevention. The information can be found on the United States National Drug Control Budget. We have a major addiction problem in this country and it needs to be addressed from a holistic perspective and not leave out inner city addicted Black men who need just a much help and not mandatory prison time for crack cocaine.
      focus and not addresses the problems within minority communities with crack addiction.

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