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University adds new programs

Posted on 04.25.2018
Graphic by Alexis Stella

Graphic by Alexis Stella

Because Indiana has ranked as the 11th worst state in terms of the opioid epidemic, the University of Indianapolis will be adding an addictions counseling program, which will consist of a Masters of Arts in Addictions Counseling and an Interprofessional Certificate in Addictions.

According to Dean of Applied Behavioral Science Anita Thomas, the certificate will assist students in earning a degree more specialized in addiction, while the masters program will be for students who wish to achieve a state license in addictions counseling.

The full degree will consist of 45 credit hours while the certificate will be six.

While most of the classes will be structured around drug and alcohol addictions, the overview courses will focus on The World Health Organization’s 10 Addictive Behaviors model, which will give students the framework to deal with all types of addiction. This will give the students the understanding addictive behaviors and what leads to addiction, according to Director of the Masters of Social Work Program Sally Brocksen.

“We’re teaching students to deal with addictions of all kinds,” Brocksen said. “Right now, we’re talking to students about the opioid epidemic. When I was in school it was about the meth epidemic. So we’re teaching them to deal with each new crisis that comes through.”

Adjunct Professor of Social Work Eric Davis has been serving as a consultant for Brocksen to make sure that the university is developing the program to the best of its ability and meeting all state requirements. He also is a co-founder of the Life Recovery Center, an outpatient addictions counseling program which has five locations across Indiana. He said that as a UIndy alumnus, he wanted to get behind this program and assist in educating qualified professionals to fight against the war on drugs.

“There simply aren’t enough professionals to offer treatment to the number of individuals that are suffering. I think that for UIndy to focus specifically on that field, I’m glad to see it,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to adequately prepare people to deal with the crisis at hand and help the people in our community that are suffering.”

Brocksen said that what is different about the opioid epidemic than any other wave of addiction before is that it is affecting white Americans in rural areas. In other drug problems Americans have seen in the past, the epidemic has primarily affected inner-city, minority groups. She said that this is because of both self medication and over- prescribed pain medications from doctors. Thomas said that this cycle of over-prescribing begins with the doctors wanting the patients pain to go down. She said that the lower a patient rates their pain, the more the doctors are paid.

“The opioid epidemic is really a combination of people that are doing that self medication that want to be high and escape and people who are doing pain management,” Thomas said. “So they have been diagnosed with chronic pain and were prescribed medication and become addicted to it. Or people who have undergone surgery and been prescribed it. And unfortunately the way the physicians were reimbursed for prescriptions often gave more pain medication than what was warranted. So people who felt more comfortable or good or liked this developed an addiction.”

As addictions to pain medications have increased, physicians are now limited to the quantity they are able to prescribe to their patients. Though in some cases this saves physicians from over-prescribing, in others it leaves some patients without the proper amount of medication to treat their pain, according to Brocksen.

“We need to be able to find this middle road where people are being treated appropriately. It’s sort of this pendulum going back and forth,” Brocksen said. “I think we’re getting to the place where we’ll land in the middle. One of the big focuses of these programs is to make sure that when they are treating these populations that there is pain, that there is problems going on and real emotional pain beside physical pain and how to address that appropriately.”

Thomas said that it is a focus in UIndy’s health science programs to make sure that all nurses and doctors are giving proper treatment when it comes to pain. She said that the addictions counseling programs will focus on alternate ways to deal with patients’ pain, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and mindfulness.

“We’ve been talking across the health sciences to make sure that we have alternate pain management strategies as a focus to that,” Thomas said. “…all the programs, nursing include, have really changed their teaching approaches to really talk about pain management and effective ways to do that without over prescribe medication.”

Brocksen said that on top of teaching these students different ways to deal with pain, they also need to understand how each social group deals with pain.

“There’s been a lot of new research about how different cultures respond to pain differently and ask for relief differently,” Brocksen said. “So we talk a lot about cultural responsiveness in our programs, but I think when it comes to addiction there is an extra layer in that. Those are things that we are definitely trying to expose our students to, so just in the individual level. And then on the macro level to look at why some addictions considered epidemics and why some are problems.”

Davis said that part of the stigma that people with addictions should simply avoid the substance is not an acceptable solution. He said that, as a recovering addict who has been clean for 19 years, he still struggles with addictive behaviors. Davis said that his goal is to educate students on what addiction really is and proper ways to treat it.

“When you hear the word addiction… what we usually equate that to is addiction is chemical dependent… I differentiate that, chemical dependency and addiction are not the same thing. They go hand in hand, but chemical dependency is cured by detox… addiction by my definition is the thinking and the behaviors that go along with that. And that existed before during and long after…” Davis said. “I think the stigma with addiction is that people want it to be about will power. And if will power were enough a center like mine wouldn’t exist. The problem with someone who is an addict and is relying on will power, that sets them up for failure because that is never enough.”

Davis said that he will continue to be dedicated fight against addiction through his own counseling center, as well as reaching out to UIndy. For more information on how aid in the fight against addiction, visit


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