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MISSOULA – For University of Montana student Amanda Martinez, the decision to study addiction counseling was both academic and deeply personal.

Recovering from drug addiction, Martinez wanted to use her difficult life experiences to help other women struggling with drugs and alcohol and knew she needed training to succeed.

“My story is not unique and that’s sad,” said Martinez, a mother of two. “Something dramatic happens to so many women and they don’t know what to do. They lose their children, they are hurt and the vicious cycle begins. I want to be a defender of women and mothers.”

That desire led Martinez to enroll in Missoula College’s Addiction Studies Program, which now offers a fully online technical studies certificate to help address the growing problems surrounding substance abuse while increasing the number of professionals working in the field.

According to the Montana Substance Use Disorders Task Force, an estimated 79,000 Montanans struggle with substance abuse disorders, and drug overdoses are the fourth leading cause of injury-related deaths. been Meanwhile, a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 92 percent of Montanans with a substance abuse disorder do not receive treatment.

“In every community there is a labor shortage for people who want to treat substance abuse disorders. And that becomes even more difficult in rural areas,” said Katie Smith, assistant professor of the program of chemical addiction studies at the UM. “Substance abuse is treatable if we have the resources.

“And every person who completes this program is that resource.”

The Addiction Studies CTS offers students wherever they live the online courses needed to apply for a licensed addiction counselor license. With the training completed, graduates are fully employable and can apply for their license after completing 1,000 supervised hours working in the field, Smith said. The certificate can also be combined with Missoula College’s General Studies Certificate to complete an Associate of Arts degree.

Patrick Ryan, clinical program supervisor at the Missoula Recovery Center, calls Missoula College’s substance abuse studies program “essential” to substance abuse treatment in the community.

Patrick Ryan, clinical program supervisor for the Missoula Recovery Center at the Western Montana Mental Health Center, serves on the program’s advisory board and calls it “essential” to substance abuse treatment in the community.

“Demand for services always exceeds supply,” said Ryan, a recovering alcoholic. “I have patients waiting three to five weeks to get one of our beds. While they’re waiting, they’ll continue to use. Not all of them will make it to admission.”

Sober since April 23, 2012, Ryan said he spent years trying to manage an illness that is unmanageable without help, eventually entering a long-term treatment program offered by WMMHC’s Share House. While there, he was accepted into the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program and enrolled in Missoula College’s Chemical Addiction Studies program. He eventually went from a volunteer at WMMHC to a licensed addiction counselor and is now the director of the recovery center.

“The fact that we’ve come full circle is not lost on me,” Ryan said. “Going from patient to student to professional. That’s what this is all about.”

Smith and Ryan emphasized that while many students in the program are in recovery or have family experience with addictions, it is not necessary to be successful as an addiction counselor.

“Being in recovery can help you build relationships, but you still have to have the tools to understand how to help,” Ryan said. That includes, he adds, understanding how trauma can be a driver of alcoholism and drug abuse.

For Martinez, the death of his mother in a car accident exacerbated his drug use.

“I wasn’t participating in life and I got into a lot of trouble,” Martinez said. “I tried to manage it myself, but I had no guidance on how to do it.”

After serving time and completing a Montana Department of Corrections treatment program, Martinez returned to her family home in Victor and is working to mend relationships with her daughters, establish a recovery community and design a new future for herself.

“I thought maybe I could go back to school, but then I thought, no, I’m a felon, on probation, and a drug addict,” Martinez said. “My dad said fill out the application, see what happens. The worst they can say is no.”

Missoula College didn’t say no, and Martinez finished her associate’s degree and now wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“My instructors never made me feel inferior, they celebrated my successes and explained things to me,” Martinez said. “I felt I had nothing to offer, that I was too tarnished. But it’s your experiences of the world that make you.”


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM Director of Strategic Communications, 406-243-5659, dave.kuntz@umontana.edu.

Source: UM’s Online Addiction Studies Certificate Fills Critical Counselor Shortage