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NPR host mistakenly says it is not social workers’ job to help people living with substance use disorders

Jeers to Steve Inskeep, host of Morning Edition on National Public Radio (NPR), for getting it all wrong when talking about the role of social workers in helping people overcome substance use disorders.

Inskeep interviewed Tucson, Arizona Police Chief Chris Magnus on Feb. 14 about the need for President Trump’s border wall. Magnus said border security — and building more border fencing — really isn’t a top issue for law enforcement officers who work near  the U.S. border with Mexico.

Steve Inskeep

Steve Inskeep

Law enforcement is much more concerned about the opioid epidemic, mental health and homelessness, Magnus said. Most illicit drugs that enter the United States come through points of entry, not across unfenced borders, he said.

And it was at this point that Inskeep proved he does not know much about the role of social workers in addressing these issues.

Magnus said, “And I think more and more folks in policing are coming around to the reality that we need to deal with the underlying issues associated with addiction and getting people into treatment rather than just locking them up. So…”

“And that’s not a social worker job. That is a police job. You think about that,” Inskeep said.

That exchange upset Rogério Meireles Pinto, LCSW, PhD, professor and associate dean for research at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Pinto contacted the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to complain about the news segment and said he plans to personally contact Inskeep.

“I was appalled by Inskeep’s ignorance about the social work profession,” Pinto said. “As a professional social worker, who, for many years, provided services in New York City, I witnessed suffering stemming from the very issues discussed by the police chief. I felt that the knowledge and skills I had developed to be a social worker were dismissed, demined, and distorted.”

Social workers are the largest group of mental health services providers in the United States and play a key role in helping people living with substance abuse disorders, including addiction to opioids. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 120,000 social workers are employed in the mental health and substance use disorder field, or almost one out of five people in the total social work workforce.

To his credit Magnus tried to correct Inskeep during the interview, pointing out that police often partner with other professions to address the social issues that underlie crimes. There are numerous news articles about social workers who work with law enforcement or in public libraries where they do outreach with people who are homeless or living with mental illness.

It is ironic Inskeep showed such ignorance about social workers. He was awarded an NASW Media Award in 2012 for his reporting honoring social worker and Congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in a shooting in Tucson.

“Time and time again, the public and the media misrepresent what social is and what social workers do,” Pinto said. “I expect much better from the NPR.”

NASW will be contacting Inskeep as well.


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