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Career Story: Director Of State Drug Addiction Services

Director Of State Drug Addiction Services

Job Title: Director, Office Of Youth And Young Adult Services

Type of Company: I work for the state's department of public health providing oversight and system development to public sector substance abuse services. In recent year I've directed the development of youth-centric services within the Commonwealth in collaboration with other state agencies and federal stakeholders.

Education: BS in Psychology, University of Florida •• MA, Psychology and Addiction Studies, Harvard University •• ABD, Behavioral Health (towards a Ph.D in Social Policy and Management), Brandeis University

Previous Experience: I started out in 1981 as a licensed practical nurse and worked as a nurse while completing my undergraduate and graduate studies in psychology and addiction. I worked in a large university-based teaching hospital in Florida before moving to Massachusetts in 1989 and working for a private psychiatric hospital on a mental health and addiction unit as a nurse. Once I completed my Masters studies, I served as program director for a private non-profit in the Boston area, overseeing women's residential, outpatient and outreach services. I've worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for the past 14 years.

Job Tasks: My primary responsibility is to provider oversight and direction to the development of adolescent and young adult substance abuse services. This includes supervision of reporting staff; contract management with service providers in communities across the state; coordinating efforts with other youth-serving state agencies to ensure access and quality to youth within other systems of care; working with community leaders and families to address concerns related to alcohol and drug use.

On any given day I attend meetings within the department of public health or with community service vendors to address ongoing issues and concerns in the delivery or development of youth services. These meetings can be about funding, budgets or contract utilization or about the review of data related to individuals being served within the services provided. Meetings can be about specific concerns with a program or the need to expand or close a program based on need or funding constraints.

I often travel around the state to specific funded or licensed programs and meet with community leaders and other state agency representatives to address related concerns or issues of access to publicly funded substance abuse services. Other state agencies I work with on a regular basis include the Department of Youth Services, Department of Children and Families, Department of Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and the juvenile court system.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of my job include planning, developing and implementing new services that actually address the needs of the adolescents we want to engage and treat for alcohol and other drug abuse. In recent years this has included the re-design of adolescent residential services that address substance abuse and mental health. We also establish adolescent stabilization services with the capacity to provide detoxification services that have never existed in Massachusetts and set a unique example for other states.

The worst part is having parents call for help and discovering that there's no where to put their children due to lack of services in their area or an absence of vacant beds, while their children could overdose or be lost to the streets (or criminal behavior) due to addiction. The worst part of my job is dealing with the budget limitations and funding constraints. Although we probably need so much more to address the needs of adolescents struggling and dying from alcohol and other drug abuse issues, the state and federal dollars are so limited and not enough can be done to address the prevention, treatment and support for youth and their families.

Job Tips: I would recommend that anyone wanting to work for the state or as a director of any service take management courses along with your area of interest and try to find good mentors and role models. You need to be able to understand all the services that I provide oversight for and an expertise in the addiction process, which I got by working my way up from the clinical level to middle management to senior management at the state level. It takes good leadership skills and project management skills, not just giving directions but learning along the way. Leave the know-it all-attitude behind and keep your mind open to new ideas and strategies. Always be willing to partner and collaborate with your counterparts in other agencies that are working with the same population and share the same or similar goals. I've found that common visions and collaborating partners can make great strides.

Additional Thoughts: Working within state government takes patience and diplomacy. It is very political and bureaucratic. You are not in control of many aspects of what you do and you have to be willing to work with limitations to improve the public health. You have to be in it for the overall goal and not the short-run limitations and constraints.

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