New program at EMCC prepares grads to be substance abuse counselors – first of its kind in the Maine Community College System

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Amid statewide efforts to respond to the opioid epidemic, Eastern Maine Community College is launching a new certificate program that meets state requirements for graduates to become certified alcohol and drug counselors.

The need for counselors is particularly acute in Maine, where more than 1,700 people have died from drug overdoses in the last five years and more than 908 drug-affected babies were born last year.

The 30-credit Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Technician Certificate program was approved by the system trustees this month, and classes begin in Spring 2020. It is the first certificate program of its kind in the Maine Community College System.

Courses are designed to provide students with an understanding of substance use, abuse and addiction in addition to rehabilitation and counseling strategies. Students will become proficient in interviewing, assessment, group facilitation, and other skills necessary to provide individual or group counseling services.

The program is offered through EMCC’s Human Services Department, where faculty member Debra McIntyre spearheaded the creation of the program.

“The data shows there are not enough professionals to cover the substance abuse and addiction crisis,” said McIntyre. “It is apparent there is a high need for professionals to serve this population.”

State officials have launched new efforts to coordinate a response to the opioid crisis, including the appointment of Maine’s first Director of Opioid Response and the creation of the state’s Prevention and Recovery Cabinet. Gov. Janet Mills has also directed state officials to recruit and train 250 qualified recovery coaches.

McIntyre noted that EMCC faculty have experience working in the field in this area, and one faculty member sat on the Substance Abuse Service Commission for the State of Maine for three years.

“Our hope is to help teach and develop highly qualified graduates who are prepared to enter the much-needed workforce,” McIntyre said.

Median salaries for substance abuse counselors is $45,000, and in the next decade, the need for those workers will increase by 22 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.