In this decidedly cool economy, any news of growth should be greeted with frenzy — unless the industry growing has to do with substance abuse and addiction.
A flurry of recent government data shows demand is surging for addiction recovery services, a sector that has remained largely immune from economic woes.
“I employ about 12 therapists,” said Dr. Russell Gaede, executive director of Provo-based Life Enhancement Center. “Six months ago, I only had three.”
Government economists say they expect job growth in substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling to be much faster than the average for all careers through 2018, leaping by 21 percent.
Gaede, who launched Life Enhancement Center five years ago this month, is having a ribbon cutting Thursday, as he expands the company’s third location in Utah County. “We’re doubling in size in Eagle Mountain,” he said.
In the battle against addictions, news from the Utah front suggests Gaede’s practice is not likely to go out of business. A study done by Harvard researcher Ben Edelman revealed that Utahns buy online pornography at higher rates than the rest of America, putting the spotlight on a state known for its family values. Prescription drugs and illicit opiates are now the main reason for admission to treatment in the Utah County system, according to Utah County officials, and overdoses on prescription drugs are the No. 1 cause of injury deaths in the state, higher than car crashes.
“Prescription drugs are huge. Meth is high. Spice is high,” said Gaede, 44, who once worked as a probation officer before earning a master’s degree in mental health counseling and a doctorate in clinical psychology. His expertise in the field, and the growing public’s interest, have earned him six TV and radio appearances in the last six months.
Gaede had a client who was deeply involved in pornography and marital affairs. After two years of weekly treatments, the client managed to turn his life around and save his marriage. But Gaede refuses to take credit.
“He and his wife were the ones who did the work,” he said. “It was a joy to see them succeed.”
This story suggests that the rapid growth in the field of addiction treatment is more complex than an increase in addiction. It also is rooted in public awareness that help is available. As society becomes knowledgeable about substance abuse and addiction, more people seek treatment.
Still, in Utah County, where help can’t seem to keep up, more than 18,000 people need substance abuse treatment, according to Utah’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. At full capacity, the public treatment system in Utah County is only serving 937 people, or 5 percent of addicts. The county turns to private treatment providers like Gaede’s Life Enhancement Center for help.
“Private providers have an important role in the drug and alcohol treatment continuum in the county,” said Richard Nance, director of the Utah County Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment.
One faithful client is the court system. Drug offenders are increasingly sent to treatment programs rather than to jail, as an abundance of studies have shown drug courts to be a successful and cost-effective intervention. Utah County officials say the county will provide treatment to 620 people in the Utah County jail this year, up from 500 in 2010. And because 85 percent of those who are in jail or prison are there because they either committed a crime under the influence or committed a crime in order to obtain drugs or alcohol, substance abuse counselors stand to remain busy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also has become a growing referrer to private providers, urging members with addictions to seek professional help. That the LDS Church’s 12-step programs now have the majority of their participants involved as a result of pornography addiction, rather than drugs and alcohol, highlights the trend of a new kind of obsession, according to Nance.
A pornography addiction specialist in Pleasant Grove says demand for counseling keeps growing though the practice hasn’t advertised.
“It’s a sign of the times,” said InnerGold president Gordon Bruin, who plans to add therapists to his team. “I’m booked out usually four weeks in advance, pretty much every single session.”
“Substance abuse, and other addictions, is a growth industry even in a down economy,” says Dr. David Yells, dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Utah Valley University. UVU, for the first time this fall, offers a certificate of proficiency in licensed substance abuse counseling. The program, which fulfills one of the requirements for state licensure, also is offered online. Students as far as Vernal and St. George have signed up, according to the university.
Yells, who heads the LSAC program, believes the course’s popularity is due to the connection students have with substance abuse. “Either they themselves or someone close to them has suffered from addiction,” he said. “They find the program a tangible way to help out the situation.”
Job outlook for therapists? Definitely upbeat, says Gaede, whose new Eagle Mountain full-service mental health facility will offer individual, family and group counseling. Gaede has just finished interviewing a job candidate for the Salem location and has plans to expand to Sanpete County.
“For qualified therapists,” he says, “there’s no such thing as layoffs in this industry.”
You can follow Daniel Crivello at www.twitter.com/dancrivello.