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UM Flint strives to combat opioid epidemic through degree programs

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The opioid epidemic has devastated communities all across the country and right here in Michigan.

The opioid epidemic has devastated communities all across the country and right here in Michigan.

According to data from the state, opioid deaths jumped from 99 in 1999 to 1,941 in 2017.

Recently, Genesee County as well as 24 other counties in Mich. were categorized as high risk. Then a shortage of substance use treatment specialists and practitioners means there aren't as many people out there working to stop the problem as there needs to be.

Looking to combat the problem locally is the University of Michigan-Flint through a variety of degree programs.

"Social work and substance use treatment are just very high need areas for our community, so they are great places for us to get our students involved, get them interested, and get them trained so we have more professionals in the field," said Bob Barnett, the Dean of the School of Education & Human Services.

Since 1979 a substance abuse treatment minor has been offered at the University, and with it's ever increasing popularity, the School of Education and Human Services added a Substance Use Treatment and Intervention major in 2017. Now, the University is expanding on the program even more with a master's program in social work and a concentration in substance use treatment.

"We are trying to get people to number one learn about addiction, but then also show an interest and seeing that need and demand," said Ryan Ashley, SUTI program coordinator.

Through the degree programs, students work with a variety of local agencies. Currently the department has 31 students placed in 24 organizations in four different counties.

On Monday, Sept. 23 and Tuesday, Sept. 24, UM Flint will be hosting it's second annual social work symposium, "Social Workers Integrating Local and Global Perspectives in Addressing Social Issues. The opioid epidemic is one of many topics that will be covered.