(Article contributed by Kim Lee, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

According to July poll tracking data from the nonprofit KFF that focuses on national health issues, some 66% of U.S. adults have either personally or within their family experienced addiction or its impact. Less than half of those who personally experienced addiction or a member of their family received treatment.

Yet, substance use disorder or SUD is considered a treatable mental disorder. Understanding basics around such disorders and treatment can be helpful to HR staff in promoting a workplace culture that is recognized for its support of employee mental and emotional health as well as productivity.

SUD’s impact on the brain makes it difficult for an individual to control use of legal or illegal substances. It can occur with another mental health disorder and the recommendation is for both to be treated at the same time.

SUD can change brain structure and function, making it more likely for someone to develop a mental illness, and a mental health disorder can prompt someone to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is the most severe form of SUD and often requires detoxification, considered the first step in recovery. Medically-managed withdrawal from alcohol, pills, and illegal drugs involves the use of medications to decrease cravings and manage symptoms that appear when the body withdraws from a substance it has become dependent on but is no longer taken.

Severity of symptoms and length of inpatient rehabilitation, often recommended for safety reasons during detoxification and to prevent relapse, depend on the individual’s addiction.

Many outpatient recovery programs offer medical and therapeutic treatment for SUD and other mental health disorders, and with hours conducive to work and other commitments.  They are designed to respond to an individual’s desire to initiate treatment as well as provide treatment after a reoccurrence.

 A key component of evidence-based programs is Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD). Street drugs laced with the cheap-to-make, but potent synthetic opioid fentanyl have become the main cause of the record number of drug overdose fatalities in the country.

Opioid Treatment Programs (OTP) provide daily medication in combination with behavioral health therapy for Opioid Use Disorder. Medications used to stop or reduce the use of opioids include suboxone, methadone or vivitrol. Easing of regulations during the coronavirus pandemic has allowed for more home dosing by established patients.

An OTP may include, as it does at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke, the care management services of a Recovery Support Navigator for community referrals, same-day assessment by a clinician for immediate admission, and free transportation for the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) as well as free Narcan, the nasal spray medication that can reverse an opioid overdose by restoring breathing.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) for individuals with a substance use diagnosis who do not need detoxification provide additional clinical support and education beyond outpatient counseling.

An IOP’s three-and-a-hour sessions generally follow a four-week curriculum focused on motivation and self-harm reduction presented by licensed clinical social workers. Individual counseling and group meetings are included.

National Recovery Month in September reminds all of us of the gains made by those in recovery, and reminds all of us as well that treatment for substance use and mental health conditions enables many people to live productive, meaningful lives.

Making employees aware on an ongoing basis of resources close to home to help with substance use and mental health challenges and related benefits provided by the company, holding a mental health day or similar event to engage employees in talking about mental health care and its importance without fear of judgement, and reminding them of the hope and support that is available when they seek such care are important considerations for HR staffs today and every day.

It is also good for all of us to remember that anyone who is thinking of hurting themselves or someone aware of such a person can call or text 988 to reach the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for help 24/7 as well as the state’s Behavioral Health Help Line – 833-773-2445.

Kimberley Lee is Chief of Creative Strategy and Development at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke.