Probation Officer Prospective: Dealing With Substance Use Disorders

The system needs to shift its mindset

(Commentary) - While working as a probation officer in the City of Chicago’s Cook County for more than 15 years, I’ve gained invaluable experience helping recovering drug users, dependents and addicts which I now feel the duty to share with others.

As a probation officer in a social worker setting, we have the unique opportunity of mentoring and guiding our clients after their poor decisions – many of which were drug related, resulted in them being placed on probation, as an alternative to prison. Dealing with clients addicted to substances is one of the most difficult tasks as an officer, as many substance users will resort to almost anything to get their next “fix.”

As an officer that manages a caseload of over 100 clients, in an over-populated criminal justice system, it’s not always feasible that each client suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD) can receive the adequate individual attention and resources needed to keep this client from re- offending or relapsing.

Many of the officers in our understaffed department have felt overwhelmed for far too long, which has hindered us from our ultimate goal: to make a positive impact leading to positive behavioral changes in our clients.

With an overloaded caseload being a major challenge that probation officers face daily, there are many times that we are unable to offer the current or recovering substance use addicts the proper time and resources that they desperately need to get clean and avoid relapsing.

There is only so far, we as probation officers can go, to help our clients in need.

We refer many, if not most of our clients suffering from substance abuse disorders to inpatient or outpatient substance use recovery treatment programs; however, many of these programs have been limited in what they offered the client.

Too many of these programs had prescribed our clients methadone alone to fight their opiate addiction. After years of seeing the affects of methadone alone, it appeared that it was just another drug that replaced opiates.

Our biggest struggle working in a county that is already understaffed and over budget is our lack of resources. Our social service workers and probation officers are in dire need of m