HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - According to the CDC, national overdose deaths hit a record high of over 107,000 in 2021. 

As opioid overdose deaths continue to rise across the country and the state, so has turnover of substance use disorder (SUD) professionals.  

“Unfortunately, we, like many others, have not been immune from the impact of turnover and shortages of these incredibly critical staff,” said Audrey Gladfelter, Administrator of the York/Adams Drug & Alcohol Commission. 

Like many in health care, SUD professionals are feeling the long-term effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“And in turn, many Pennsylvanians have found it harder to seek treatment and support,” said Dr. Mitchell Crawford, Director of Addiction Services at WellSpan Health in York, Pa. He says the Department of Drug and Alcohol Program’s (DDAP) $10 million substance use disorder loan repayment program will help retain SUD professionals at a crucial time.  

“We know our friends and neighbors are struggling with addiction, and importantly, we know that treatment works,” said Dr. Crawford. “This money made available through the substance use disorder loan repayment program will help keep our talented colleagues in our communities and engaged in this work,” he added. 

Full and part time physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, registered nurses, licensed social workers, certified drug and alcohol counselors, and more, are among those who qualify for the program. Officials say these professionals provide services that Pennsylvania cannot afford to lose.  

“The availability and potency of the drug supply, in combination with increased substance use, high rates of turnover and staff shortages in the field, has unforgivably created the perfect storm,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. 

Smith says these professionals can be the difference between life and death.  

“For individuals struggling with the disease of addiction, treatment and supports from substance use disorder professionals can absolutely be the difference between life and death,” said Smith.  

She believes helping professionals with their outstanding qualifying educational loans will help maintain a strong workforce. 

“By removing some of the burden of debt associated with the cost of education, we are incentivizing professionals to remain in the substance use disorder treatment field,” said Smith. 

The deadline to apply for the program is tonight at 11:59. The application can be found here.