Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith, speaks during a press conference, which discussed the need to expand our lens of focus from opioids to fighting overall substance use disorder with the increase of polysubstance and stimulant use across the commonwealth, inside Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in Harrisburg on Monday, October 18, 2021 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).
State officials are encouraging Pennsylvania’s workforce – especially its health care workers who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic – to take advantage of a free, online educational tool designed to inform, and provide them with guidance on substance use disorder.
The online learning platform, known as Just Five, launched in May 2021 as a way to improve Pennsylvanians’ understanding of addiction and substance use disorder, reduce the stigma surrounding the disease, and provide individuals with helpful resources.
“By improving our own understanding of this disease we can better understand others who may be at risk,” Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith said during a Tuesday news conference at WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital in York, adding that a time investment of just five minutes can make a difference.
From 2020 to 2021, during much of the pandemic-induced lockdowns – Pennsylvania recorded its second highest year of drug overdose deaths – 5,089, according to state Department of Health data.
Smith expressed gratitude and concern for the commonwealth’s health care workers who have faced an “immeasurable amount of stress” during the pandemic.
“Health care professionals have been under immense pressure over the past two years due to longer hours, secondary trauma or compassion fatigue, and unfortunately; a pandemic that has not let up,” Smith said, recognizing the challenges health care professionals have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thank you for caring so selflessly for others,” she added.
Despite caring for others who may be struggling with or seeking treatment for substance use disorder, a disease with which health care workers are intimately aware, Smith cautioned that “no one is immune to the disease of addiction.”
“Studies have shown that extra stressors placed on the healthcare field leaves them more vulnerable to substance use and misuse,” Smith continued. “We must ensure that employers and employees have resources available to support individuals suffering from substance use disorder.”
To that end, Smith encouraged health care workers, and those in other fields, to utilize the Just Five program, boosting their own awareness and understanding of addiction and the resources available.
“I encourage all employers throughout the state to take advantage of this tool and incorporate Just Five into their workplace health programs,” Smith said.
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