New CMC programs help meet rising need for technicians, addiction specialists

Students complete coursework aspect of certification in one semester as addiction referrals continue to climb

Luke Lubchenco, a student of CMC's new certified addiction technician program, outside Valley View Hospital, where he is a mental health advocate at the Youth Recovery Center, on Aug. 31, 2021.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

A pair of new Colorado Mountain College programs are turning around certified addiction technicians and specialists at a high rate as the need continues to grow.

The new programs launched on Aug. 24 for a cohort of six individuals, the first of 15 weeks of coursework, which CMC officials say is the fastest in the state to fulfill classroom qualifications to apply for the two certifications. It also allows students to receive college credit as they train to begin or further careers in addiction treatment. They open the door to higher qualifications, which means higher wages, and further education like a master’s degree, in an essential field that is only seeing demand increase.

“The more I learn about addictions, the more I see that it’s undervalued, underserved and extremely stigmatized,” Luke Lubchenco, a student of the new program, said.

Lubchenco is a mental health advocate at the Youth Recovery Center at Valley View Hospital. He’s been there for nine months providing support for the kids and families going through the program, driven to be part of the solution after seeing addiction impact those around him growing up.

To Lubchenco, the new programs allow him to turn his desire to help into a legitimate career.

“In the short term, it will certainly open doors to greater compensation,” Lubchenco said. “It also sets up for the long term, applying for grad school. It opens a lot of doors to anywhere you want to go with addictions.”

Certified addiction technicians and specialists offer support and treatment for people who have dependencies on substances and for their families. A technician works at the entry level, including collecting screening data and providing education, while a specialist is a higher-level qualification that deals more directly with treatment. Both require classroom learning and field work.

The state of Colorado renamed the certificates last year and added a bachelor’s degree in the areas of addiction, behavioral analysis or mental health requirement for the specialist role. According to Colorado Mountain College Dean Anne Moll, the state wants people in these roles to be educated to a certain level, specifically on a trajectory for a master’s degree.

CMC, already laying the foundation for the program, had to adapt its programming some but ultimately found the changes to be “exactly what we want,” Moll said.

“We had planned it, but we had to adjust a little bit to build it out with the bachelor’s,” she said. “We wanted to support what the communities needed, and now we get the opportunity to do that even more so because we were planning this bachelor’s all along.”

The idea is that earning a degree and putting students on a path to more education will help elevate them above minimum-wage support jobs, earn higher pay and increase quality of care for patients in recovery.

CMC began exploring the idea of creating a college program several years ago. Community members reached out looking for ways for their employees to be compensated through college credit for undergoing the training to be certified. Now, with the program underway, Moll said the program hasn’t had to advertise, as more groups have approached the school with interest in sending employees or even duplicating the cohort model for their workers as demand in the field increases.

There are up to 250 open positions for addiction counselors in Colorado, Moll estimated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field will add up to 80,000 jobs nationally by 2029, a 25% growth from 2019.

In the wake of the pandemic, the need became immediately apparent. CMC counselor Chris Harnden said following a huge flatline in counseling referrals during the shutdown, those referrals spiked once society started opening back up.

Many of those cases had a substance abuse aspect.

“People had sought comfort, in a time of uncertainty, in drugs and alcohol because that’s what they could get their hands on,” Harnden said. “Now, they’re coming out of this and they have no coping skills. They haven’t practiced them in over a year.”

In the coursework, the students are learning about ethics, counseling skills, culturally informed treatment and motivational interviewing. They are being taught to treat with compassion and understanding.

Harnden says other schools offer college credit for training to be certified, but CMC is the first to allow students to complete the coursework in just a semester, shrinking the curriculum from two years down to four months. The students still have to complete 1,000 hours of clinical work before they can apply for the certification, but they can have the in-class aspect done at an accelerated pace.

He said no material was cut, students just meet for extended classes twice a week. Curriculums for each certification have 11 courses, adding up to 12 to 15 credit hours.

Lubchenco lives in Carbondale and said two of his classmates are from Rifle and one is from Leadville. Moll said that much of the interest came from the Silt to Rifle region, and through community outreach, she learned that there is a demand for these solutions at the local level. The program incentives locals to pursue these higher levels of qualification and stay in the field.

“We need people who are from our communities, who will stay in our communities,” Moll said. “I think it gives us a great opportunity to really help and significantly put a dent in the needs of our communities.”

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