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Cocchi Contacting Colleges and Universities About Training For Additional Addiction Counselors Citing Shortage

Nick Cocchi, Assistant Superintendent of the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, and candidate for Sheriff, today expressed concern about a possible shortage of licensed alcohol and drug counselors when the Hampden County Drug Court opens later this year. 

“In our efforts against addiction at The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, one of the greatest challenges we face is too-few treatment beds for addicts who don’t belong in a jail cell. We have great hope that the new Hampden County Drug Court will help direct patients to treatment. However, recent reports that the Habit OPCO Methadone Clinic in Lowell was forced to stop accepting new patients due to the lack of certified trained counselors is disturbing. This is an issue we should get in front of now to avoid this same problem when our new Drug Court opens. I have some ideas on how to do that,” said Cocchi.

“We need to provide reliable drug treatment services here in Hampden County on top of our successful efforts at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department Addiction Center. The Massachusetts Legislature took on this epidemic 'Opioid Crisis' by passing legislation and additional funding to expand treatment services. We need to be sure that this effort does not fail because of the lack of certified addiction counselors. We need to be sure that we will have enough qualified addiction counselors to keep up with the growing stream of patients,” said Cocchi.

“I found recent comments by Linda Mullins, Treasurer for the Massachusetts Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, important,” said Cocchi: “The difficulty in finding  qualified, certified alcohol and addiction counselors has gotten worse over the past few years, and that shortage has grown significantly over the last 5 to 10 years. Some (treatment programs) are ending up hiring people that aren't really qualified. A lot of our students, a good 60 percent of our students, are hired before they can finish the program. So that's a sign that they are desperate for people with any kind of qualification." Mullins also trains addiction councilors at several colleges, including Westfield University.” *Lowell Sun, 5/19/16.

“The reality of just how many people are in need of help, and not a jail cell is daunting. It’s just been reported that: “The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated there were 556,000 people who abused or were dependent on alcohol or drugs in Massachusetts in 2014. That same year, there were 1,388 people certified as Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (LADCs). LADCs, which require a bachelor's degree, are the most common form of certification for addiction counselors in Massachusetts.” “That math is not an equation for success,” said Cocchi.

“I’ve reached out to Westfield State University, and area legislators to explore avenues the University can help meet the anticipated need for more certified counselors. I believe that STCC, HCC, The Elms, Western New England University, American International College and Springfield College, given their course offerings, might also be part of the effort to ensure we have the counselors we need, and I will be reaching out to them as well,” said Cocchi.

“We know from our work that a successful treatment plan for Opioid addicts requires regular, consistent and intensive counseling from qualified trained professionals, from certified alcohol and drug treatment counselors. A successful addiction treatment center like Lowell’s Habitat IPCO stopping to take new referrals is a warning of the critical need for new certified and experienced drug and alcohol counselors to service this population,” said Cocchi.

“We should get this right on day one when the Hampden County Drug Court opens. And as one of the responsible stewards of this program, our nationally recognized Hampden County Sheriff’s Department will continue to be at the forefront of the fight to ensure that our College and University system is helping provide us with the necessary trained and certified addiction counselors,” Cocchi said. 

“If I earn the right to serve as our next Sheriff, I will open the facilities of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department for internship programs to area colleges. We will welcome any college or university in Hampden County that would be interested in placing students into internships with us to earn practical hours of supervised counseling. Anything we can do to help prepare the counselors we need will ultimately save lives and tax-payer’s dollars,” said Cocchi.