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OnTrack takes aim at addiction counselor shortage

Along with a shortage of workers in a variety of industries, addiction counselors are also badly needed. That’s not good news for those struggling with substance abuse, but a new program funded with a federal grant is working to fill the gap.


The pandemic disrupted many lives, and contributed to a rise in substance abuse. Social distancing, loss of employment and the deaths of loved ones from COVID all played a role. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 93,000 people died of overdoses last year, a record number that reflected a 30% increase from the previous year.

In the Rogue Valley, the trauma of the pandemic was exacerbated by the horrific destruction of the Almeda fire last September, adding even more stress to many residents’ lives.

Even as the toll of addiction rose across the country, there has been a shortage of mental health workers, including addiction treatment counselors. A story in today’s paper reports that local treatment provider OnTrack has a 40% vacancy rate for addiction counselors and a waiting list of 100 people seeking help.

Contributing to the problem is a delay in state funding intended to increase treatment opportunities. Last February, a voter-approved initiative that decriminalized most hard drugs took effect. Measure 110 also diverts state cannabis tax revenue to drug treatment, but the new services are not scheduled to begin until Oct. 1.

A group of 22 substance abuse treatment providers wrote a letter to Gov. Kate Brown earlier this month asking for immediate help to fill the gap, noting that more people have died in Oregon from drug overdoses during the pandemic than from COVID-19. The governor’s office says state health officials will work with treatment providers to give child care support and financial incentives for providers.

Locally, OnTrack is using a four-year, $2.2 million federal grant to launch a program to train and certify addiction counselors, mental health associates and peer support specialists. The goal is to train 30 people a year.

The program takes three months to three years, depending on the level of certification the student is seeking. Training happens in a classroom and on the job, and students get paid while they are learning.

The work is not for everyone, but those who do it say it can be highly rewarding.

For information on applying, see the OnTrack website,, or call 541-200-2402. You — and someone who needs your help — may be glad you did.