11.05.2015 Support for professionals in the health service, education, social services and law enforcement who deal with people with addiction problems

Addiction questions in the front-line services. Every day, people from various public services come into contact with clients who are at risk of becoming addicted or are already addicted. How should they handle these clients? How should they address the addiction problem? How should they offer help, and in what form? The "Addiction questions in the front-line services" project investigates these questions and supports professionals who come into contact with people with addiction problems in their everyday work.

Pictures Support for professionals in the health service, education, social services and law enforcement who deal with people with addiction problems

TODO CHRISTIAN

Pictures Support for professionals in the health service, education, social services and law enforcement who deal with people with addiction problems

TODO CHRISTIAN

Pictures Support for professionals in the health service, education, social services and law enforcement who deal with people with addiction problems

TODO CHRISTIAN

Pictures Support for professionals in the health service, education, social services and law enforcement who deal with people with addiction problems

TODO CHRISTIAN
Pictures

Individuals who are addicted or at risk of becoming so are frequently perceived by people working in the health and social services, education and law enforcement as being difficult and particularly work-intensive. As addiction is still a taboo subject, it is often difficult to address the problem openly or to offer specific help. In addition, the service providers frequently have little knowledge of addiction. Initial and continuing training courses either ignore the "peripheral" topic of addiction completely or deal with it only in passing. If they are to handle addicted clients or those at risk of addiction appropriately, the professionals and institutions who encounter these individuals in a front-line situation require a fundamental understanding of the subject of addiction and the necessary knowledge about the options for addiction prevention and counselling.  

FOPH, EWS and Infodrog

Various stakeholders in the addiction field have already taken steps to raise awareness and provide further training with the aim of helping front-line professionals to perform their job-specific tasks. The intention is to further expand this offering. With this in mind, in 2012 the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the Expert Group on continuing education on addiction (EWS) and Infodrog (the Swiss Office for the Coordination of Addiction Facilities) joined forces in the project "Addiction questions in the front-line services" with the aim of coordinating the procedure more effectively and exploiting synergies. After the EWS was dissolved at the end of 2014, the front-line services mandate passed to Infodrog. The project primarily targets authorities at national and cantonal level. The intention is to make them aware of the need to put the topic on the political agenda so that it is given the emphasis it deserves. This is essential to creating a framework for efficient and effective handling of addiction questions in the provision of front-line services.  

The way to an optimal approach

The "Addiction questions in the front-line services" project will enable professionals working in the health and social services, education and law enforcement who are occasionally confronted by addiction-related topics to take an optimal approach to dealing with addicted individuals and those at risk of addiction. The point is not to train them to become addiction specialists. The idea is rather to enable them to recognise people at risk of addiction or with an addiction problem and to put them into contact with the appropriate facilities as quickly as possible.  

Promoting a positive basic attitude

Specific knowledge about addiction and a positive basic attitude will not only benefit the clients. If the professionals are equipped to handle addicts, they can respond more confidently and specifically, and this will enable them to do their work more efficiently and to derive greater satisfaction from it. Greater awareness of addiction-specific problems also promotes a positive and accepting attitude towards people with addiction problems, thus countering discrimination.  

A focus on initial and continuing training

One of the main focus areas of the project is the promotion of cooperation with professional and specialist associations and other stakeholders in the front-line services. They will work with the addiction specialists to integrate the topic of addiction into their initial and continuing training offerings. Experience in different sectors such as the police or youth work has shown that this tandem approach contributes greatly to the success of awareness-raising and continuing training activities. On the one hand, awareness of factors specific to professional groups allows the training content to be matched to their needs in optimum fashion,  while at the same time, access to the professionals concerned and acceptance of the topic are achieved more easily and credibly by people from the same field than by "outsiders". This should help to avoid a situation in which the need to deal with addiction-specific topics is seen as an additional workload, and should allow it to be perceived as a form of support in carrying out work procedures.  

Different ways – the same goals

Initial and continuing training are structured very differently, even within individual functions. Every professional association has its own guidelines and requirements, and the situation is further complicated by the regional (linguistic) differences in the training landscape. This heterogeneity calls for pragmatic and varied approaches in the areas of social welfare, nursing/domiciliary care and unemployment. The unifying factors are the goals and the strategy of raising awareness at the political and strategic levels as a way of achieving the necessary attention to the subject and giving the professionals concerned access to appropriate training.   There is also very great heterogeneity in basic training, a new part of the overall project. The first step here must be to establish what form of basic training the professionals concerned actually receive. There are, for example, very different ways of becoming a youth worker, an advisor at a regional job centre or a domiciliary care provider. Moreover, every technical college and university of applied sciences has its own curriculum and teaching objectives. The common factor between them is that long-term planning and a coordinated approach is needed in order to modify their curricula.   

Understanding "front-line services" correctly

The use of the term "front-line services" to describe professionals working in the health and social services, education, community services and law enforcement who come into contact with addiction questions on an ad hoc basis is not self-explanatory and repeatedly leads to discussion. The most contentious aspect is the distinction between "front-line service providers" defined in this way and other professionals who provide primary healthcare. In order to really understand the way the term is used, it is important to appreciate that people at risk of addiction and addicted individuals can only be given optimal support if their situation and needs are also met with knowledge and sensitivity outside the context of their specific (addiction-related) care. This ongoing support, as provided for example by the regional job centres or social services, thus plays a correspondingly important role.  

The term "addiction treatment" is too narrow

Another challenge in defining this concept accurately is that it goes beyond providing the best possible care for individuals who are already addicted. Professionals also need to be given information that will enable them to identify incipient addiction problems and direct affected individuals towards the best possible support. The term addiction treatment is too narrow for this aspect of early identification, and may deter people working in some professions and cause fear of stigmatising their clients.      

Support from Safe Zone

The subject of first-line services is to be included in the development of measures for the National Addiction Strategy. This will enable the subject to be integrated into and given appropriate emphasis in future needs-oriented addiction work. In addition to focusing on greater awareness and initial and continuing training, allowance also needs to be made for the fact that knowledge, once acquired, rapidly fades and is then not available when it is needed. The intention is therefore to give front-line service providers special access to Safe Zone, the online portal for addiction matters, so that they can request information and support directly from addiction specialists. Positive initial contact through an online medium will also influence their attitude towards addiction work in the real world. This is beneficial for local partnerships, which are a fundamental pillar of the integrated therapy provided for addicted individuals and those at risk of addiction.

Contact

Salomé Steinle, Drugs Section, salome.steinle@bag.admin.ch  

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