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Cops, docs, and addiction: How we prevent them from getting help

I have a mantra for reading articles of online newspapers:

Don’t read the comments. Don’t read the comments. Don’t read the comments

Then, of course…I read the damned comments.

Yesterday’s Bangor Daily covered the plea deal for Mark Westrum, career police officer and correctional administrator for Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset. Mr. Westrum was arrested this fall for aggravated OUI, which means he drove with a blood alcohol content above .15

The article outlined receiving treatment and attending AA meetings as conditions for a reduced plea. I’m always hopeful that folks will seize such opportunities to change their lives. Perhaps I’m in the minority in that regard. When I read the comment section, it certainly feels that way.

The most popular addiction in America is to ill informed, intolerant, and self-righteous anger.

We hold those who protect and serve to higher standards than the general public. That’s appropriate. I don’t excuse OUI offenses at all. What’s missing in our public consciousness is the simple fact that in a multitude of professions, people risk their careers by admitting they have a substance abuse problem and/or a significant mental health condition.

We have a responsibility to remove barriers to treatment for those suffering from any disease or other major health problem. Somehow, we pretend that it doesn’t cost more to maintain the obstacles, despite a wealth of research consistently proving otherwise.

There is a remarkable lack of research regarding police officers experiencing drug & alcohol abuse/addictions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. This is indicative of the prevailing norms of the profession. For as unyielding as these beliefs and values may be; they exist within a broader context of a society that expects those who keep us safe to be invulnerable.

It’s simple: We expect soldiers, cops, doctors, nurses, EMTs, firefighters, elected leaders, members of the clergy and a plethora of other professionals to consistently bear witness to pain, place themselves in highly stressful situations, and emerge unscathed day after day throughout their careers.

That’s not reality. We need to provide access to compassionate and effective care BEFORE the career ending occurrence becomes a possibility.

In a perfect world, health records and confidentiality would be sufficiently protected. Anyone who works in health care knows better. The most efficient solution to this problem would be for at risk professionals to be offered advanced versions of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

EAPs do not require diagnoses or entries into one’s permanent health care records. They allow folks to access professional counselors and therapists without being labelled. The standard EAP is limited to 3-4 sessions. For most folks, this is only enough to assess the severity of a problem and receive recommendations. If we were to fortify such plans with direct funding from the employer, we could expand those 3-4 sessions to something far more comprehensive and effective.

Alternatively, there is a potential loop hole for those who can afford it. Professionals like myself who are licensed and certified professionally sometimes work in para-professional roles like “life coaches” and “recovery coaches.”

Using myself as an example, I am licensed as a mental health clinician and as an addictions counselor. When I provide treatment, I most often bill insurance companies. My fields are heavily regulated and I must conduct myself within the scope of state and federal laws and the ethics that pertain to my profession.

If I work privately as a life or recovery coach, I am self-employed and don’t have to comply with any regulations. The tradeoff is that I cannot bill your health insurance. These services can be completely confidential because records are not necessary in any way.

Life and recovery coaches are widely available in urban and most suburban communities. They are also widely available online. Shop around. There are huge variances in prices.

My advice is still that the best resources are free: AA and NA are still the experts and in my experience, are generally confidential and based in anonymity. If you can’t afford the risk, email me and I’ll do my best to help you find a resource that works for you.

We can’t keep setting up those who protect us. Everyone needs support, outlets and safety nets.

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