When First Responders Become Addicts

On the surface, it may seem a little counterintuitive to hear about addiction among first responders. After all, they are usually on site to help people struggling with dependencies and have devoted their lives to safety and wellness. Well, it is actually not that uncommon for paramedics, firemen and police officers to fall prey to substance abuse; signaling once again that this disease knows no bounds.


The Philly Voice recently published an expose on this growing problem, outlining both high ranking and entry level first responders who are now overcoming their addictions. Newly released stats have shown that opioid dependencies have now taken over alcoholism as the primary dependency among this set. Clare Seletsky, director of the First Responders program at Recovery Centers of America, spoke to the outlet about increased challenges paramedics, correctional officers and fire personnel face.


“Alcohol addiction was once the preeminent reason first responders would seek treatment, but narcotics has caught up,” Seletsky explained. “Just this year it’s getting equal to alcohol. Six, seven years ago alcohol far surpassed other drugs.”


Seletsky also touted a new recovery initiative her organization has put together specifically tailored for first responders. The Valor with Integrity Program for Emergency Responders (also known as VIPER) program offers a safe and supportive environment for drug and alcohol treatment. It also makes a point to address issues commonly associated with these types of jobs, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), crime scene trauma and physical ailments tied to the daily demands of this type of work.


Seletsky also emphasized the “trust issue” many people in these professions face while in recovery. Sitting alongside alumni they may have arrested or resuscitated can create awkward or uncomfortable feelings. It can also impact the progress of others in treatment, knowing that they may not be fully honest knowing that there is a law enforcement officer sitting next to them. As Seletsky put it, keeping these types of groups separated improves progress on both sides.


The rise in opioid dependencies is something else to consider among this group. The truth of the matter is, people in these fields are often putting their bodies at risk and are much more prone to receiving an injury on the job. Once that occurs and painkillers enter the equation, it is not difficult to slide down the slippery slope into addiction.


We have always tipped our hats to the amazing work that first responders do. There is absolutely no shame in there being a rise in addiction among this group and we want to make ourselves just as available to them as we would to anyone else battling a dependency.