Jeremiah “Miah” Olson tells his students tobacco use should no longer be ignored.
Olson is the department chair and an instructor at Fox Valley Technical College for pupils learning to counsel clients with substance use disorders.
“Probably more than half of the people who get sober under our treatment still die because they continue to smoke,” Olson said. “My pitch is, ‘why are we going to allow them to continue to smoke if that’s going to kill them, too?’ We need to stop making this an issue we avoid.”
Olson asked UW-CTRI Regional Outreach Specialist Sarah Thompson to speak to his classes about integrating tobacco treatment into substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.
“She does an excellent job,” Olson said. “She’s great at asking, ‘what do you want to hear about?’” At Olson’s request, Thompson added information about vaping to her talks.
They quickly discovered that some of the students use tobacco products. “That hit them pretty hard,” Olson said.
“I agree,” Thompson said, “I felt like I could see the ‘wheels in their heads’ turning. We felt like they were invested, and we were doing our jobs.”
In an anonymous survey after Thompson’s talk, a student commented, “This is impactful and makes me want to quit.”
Another asked, “Do you work with prisons/jails at all? I was four months without tobacco, but no one talked to me about it.” UW-CTRI is, in fact, also focused on outreach to those in the justice system. It is all part of the Wisconsin Nicotine Treatment Integration Project (WiNTiP), coordinated by UW-CTRI and funded by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Olson said he coordinates with other instructors throughout Wisconsin to ensure the next generation of counselors treat tobacco use along with other substance use disorders.
“So why are we not doing that in a treatment setting?”
Olson tries to get rid of the term “harder drugs,” traditionally applied to substances like cocaine or heroin. “All these drugs, including tobacco, are destroying people’s lives.”
He invited Thompson back to speak in September at the Fox Valley Technical College SUD Provider Conference, when about 100 behavioral health professionals will gather together, and to speak to students again in the next academic year.
Thompson will speak about tobacco and marijuana use and potential treatments.
“I think it’s really important Sarah and her UW-CTRI colleagues continue to do their work,” Olson said, “and that we don’t ignore it. If we can help clients live even longer because they reduced or stopped their tobacco use, that’s a win for everybody.”