Symposiums Highlight Roles in Bettering Individuals,
By Bernard S. Little
What role do social workers play in the current opioid epidemic?
“We need to advocate for our patients, and encourage our patients
to advocate for themselves,” said U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Loquita
Roberts, a licensed clinical social worker at Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center. She stressed the importance of relationship-building between
providers, beneficiaries and their families, as well as the critical role that
multi-disciplinary teams play in the care of patients and their outcomes.
Walter Reed Bethesda registered pharmacist David Rohrbaugh agreed
that combating the opioid epidemic requires a team approach, and social workers
are key members of multi-disciplinary teams impacting patient outcomes.
“In your jobs and what you do daily, you can create a relationship
with the patient that oftentimes a nurse or a doctor can’t, and that might be
the difference between someone transitioning to a misuse point [of opioids] or
not,” Rohrbaugh added.
Roberts explained it’s important for social workers to know the
signs for opioid addiction, which can include dramatic shifts in moods from sleepiness
to euphoria, nausea, confusion, constricted pupils, slowed breathing,
constipation, slurred speech, itching, isolation, and doctor shopping (multiple
prescriptions from different doctors). Long-term effects of opioid abuse can
result in organ damage and eventually, death, she furthered.
“We need to improve prescribing of opioids, expand treatment of
addiction, and reduce access to illegal opioids,” Rohrbaugh stated, adding that
while the United States accounts for only 4.3 percent of the world’s
population, U.S. consumption of the world’s natural and synthetic opiates is at
least 85 percent.
Alternatives to opioid use for pain relief can include acupuncture,
physical therapy, meditation, massage therapy, chiropractic and cognitive
behavioral therapy, among others therapies, the pharmacist and social worker
Roberts and Rohrbaugh were among a number of speakers who
discussed various topics focused on this year’s theme for National Social Work
Month (NSWM) during three day-long symposiums at WRNMMC. Observed annually
during March, this year’s theme for NSWM highlighted social workers as leaders,
advocates and champion.
Stacee Springer, also a licensed clinical social worker at WRNMMC,
stated that social workers advocate for their clients in obtaining “fair and
equitable access to public services and benefits,” as well as “equal treatment
and protection under the law, and they “challenge injustices that affect the
vulnerable and disadvantaged.”
Springer provides individual and family supportive counseling for
children, adolescent and young adults, as well as their family members who have
been diagnosed with a childhood type of cancer at WRNMMC. She also provides
patient and parent education regarding advanced care planning, which includes
advanced directives, guardianship and powers of attorney. The social worker
explained a common goal of those in her profession is to help their “clients
become independent and exercise influence and control over their own lives.”
She added social workers also advocate for their clients even when the client
doesn’t agree with the social worker. “We can’t control [our clients’] choices
or behaviors, but we still advocate for them based on what we determine to be
the [best] recommendation. We want to enhance their well-being.”
Lt. Col. Liquori L. Etheridge, another licensed clinical social worker at
WRNMMC, agreed, adding, “As a member of a multidisciplinary team, [social
workers] conduct routine, acute assessments and follow-up evaluations and treatment
in the form of individual, family and group therapy for children, adolescents
Army officer explained that as leaders and champions in health care, social
workers “have an obligation to advocate for the needs of individual, families
and positively impact communities.”
workers contribute to military readiness by helping to ensure service members
are mentally and emotionally fit to serve, Etheridge added. The lieutenant
colonel stated, “[Social workers] preserve the fighting force by
providing service members centered behavioral health care services.
workers should incorporate the organizational mission, values and goals combined
with the social and psychology aspects and principles associated with the field
of social work,” Etheridge added.