The Center for Rural Pennsylvania held its 18th public hearing on opioids and the opioid crisis on Feb. 16, at the State Capitol Building, bringing together stakeholders from across the state to discuss strategies being implemented to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in Pennsylvania during the coronavirus pandemic. Penn State Berks Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Jennifer Murphy was among those invited to present her research focused on public health and public policy.
The purpose of the hearing was to collect examples of strategies and policies that could be replicated in rural communities to address ongoing challenges.
Murphy’s research, which is sponsored by the center, surveyed mental health professionals working in substance use disorder treatment programs. In her presentation, Murphy explained that the research documented a lack of mental health professionals, especially in rural Pennsylvania. According to the testimony highlights published by the center, “This shortage is exacerbated by the relatively high turnover among clinical workers, with 33 to 50% of survey respondents noting that they are likely to leave their position within a year of the survey. High levels of employee burnout and low wages were identified as primary concerns for employees.”
Murphy also identified potential policies that could improve retention of mental health counselors, including providing tuition reimbursement for counselors working in substance use disorder treatment and supporting programs that promote healthy working environments for counselors.
Pennsylvania Senator Gene Yaw, chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors, said of the presentation, "This hearing will help us learn more about the strategies being used to help communities combat this on-going crisis and ensure that individuals battling substance use disorder, particularly those in our rural communities, are receiving the help and support they need."
Murphy's research interests include drug policy and the simultaneous medicalization / criminalization of drug addiction. Her most recent book, "Illness or Deviance? Drug Courts, Drug Treatment, and the Ambiguity of Addiction" (Temple University Press, 2015), examines a drug court and affiliated drug-treatment programs to see how addiction was constructed in each setting. Her current research project is looking at how a person's framework for understanding addiction influences their opinion on how to handle drug offenders.
About the Center for Rural Pennsylvania
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The center works with the legislature, educators, state and federal executive branch agencies, and national, statewide, regional and local organizations to maximize resources and strategies that can better serve Pennsylvania's nearly 3.4 million rural residents.