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Opioid drug crisis spurs demand for social workers

For Immediate Release Jul 3, 2017
IU School of Social Work students work on a computer
IU School of Social Work students

INDIANAPOLIS – Due in part to the opioid drug epidemic, a degree in social work has become an even hotter ticket to a job.

The rising demand for social workers led to a remarkable record last May, when 100 percent of undergraduate students who responded to a survey asking about their plans after graduation said they either had a job or were furthering their education.

About 47 students answered the question out of 93 students receiving a bachelor’s degree in social work. Students receiving a master’s in social work were not asked the question.

Not only did those seeking employment have jobs, but a number of them had multiple job offers from which to choose.

“The demand for social workers has always been high, but it is particularly true now,” School of Social Work Dean Michael Patchner said. “There are workforce shortages in the state in mental health and addictions, in child welfare and medical social work.”

Part of the shortage of workers stems from the current opioid drug epidemic, Patchner said.

According to Patchner, addiction to opioids is just one facet of the problem. The addicts often cannot take care of their children properly, so their children are at risk. That spills over to the child welfare system.

“There aren’t as many treatment facilities as are needed in Indiana,” he said. “Therefore, we have a lot of outpatient work providing treatment. There is just a need to address all of these social problems.”

Beyond the opioid epidemic, there’s always been a demand for people who want to help others, and as populations grow, change and age, more of them are needed, Patchner said.

The social work graduation record set in May was followed by a 65.1 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in the first summer session of social work classes at IUPUI, or 464 students compared to 281 the year before.

The numbers do not take into account those registered for MSW Direct, the school’s online program.

The school recently added a Master of Social Work degree program in Bloomington, joining the Bachelor of Social Work degree that was already offered there. The school also provides social work classes at IU campuses in New Albany, Richmond, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Gary.

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Rich Schneider

Senior Communications Specialist/Content Strategist, IUPUI

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