According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016, and another 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder.
Eric Dean MA Class of 2019

As opioid abuse dominates headlines and ensnares more Americans in its deadly grip, there is no doubt that it requires new perspectives, new research, and new treatments to address what many see as a crisis of epidemic proportions. 

Some of these insights are likely to come from Gateway Foundation, the country's largest nonprofit substance abuse treatment provider. For the last five decades, its evidence-based approach to developing and implementing innovative and personalized treatment curricula has helped more than one million patients.

The Gateway Foundation has treated more than 1 million patients.

As a treatment therapist at Gateway, Harris Evening Master’s Program student Eric Dean MA Class of 2019 is very much on the front lines of the never-ending battle against addiction and substance abuse. He works directly with clients in helping them reach their goals. Thanks to the work he is doing at Harris, however, he recently took on the additional role of supervising his facility’s data analytics, a critical component to Gateway’s mission of providing evidence-based and innovative treatment solutions – in the growing battle against addiction.

The path to where Dean currently finds himself has been far from traditional. After undergrad at the University of Illinois and a joint JD/MBA program, Dean embarked on a career in financial derivatives, insurance, and risk management. 

After four years, Dean was feeling unfulfilled. He went back to school to pursue a career as a substance abuse therapist. 

“The most important driver of that change was that I wanted to help people and meaningfully interact with them to help them reach their goals,” said Dean. “I was thinking about ways that I could interact with people and guide them to live in accordance with their values, and I thought that being a therapist focusing on substance abuse would allow me to do that. So, I went back to school, and I haven't looked back since. 

“It's been a blessing,” Dean added.

Dean landed with Gateway Foundation, where he has been a therapist ever since. It didn’t take long for Dean to realize that even more education would further benefit his clients and help him add more value to the organization.

“In my conversations and sessions with clients, I realized the huge impact that policy has on their lives and recovery. I was curious about that and found the program at Harris. It was perfect for me,” Dean said. “It was a good blend of data analytics, economics, politics, leadership management, and negotiations. I felt it was the thing that would take my career to the next level.”

It did just that. Enrolling in the Evening Master’s Program allowed Dean to continue his work as a therapist while gaining new skills he could immediately apply in the workplace. As a result, Dean has earned multiple promotions since starting at Harris. His latest job overseeing data analytics is in addition to his continued role as a therapist, but he sees the added responsibilities as a win-win situation.

"I get the human side of it, and I get to use techniques and methods that I'm learning to help clients in other ways as well. I learned some beneficial statistical tools that I applied to my work almost immediately. It was definitely like learning something on a Tuesday night and then bringing it into my office on a Wednesday morning and just eliciting a great discussion about how we can use more data, and how we can better serve our clients,” said Dean.

Dean’s tenure at Gateway comes in the midst of what many consider the worst drug epidemic in the country's history: opioid abuse and addiction. According to theUS Department of Health and Human Services, 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016, and another 2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder. Meanwhile, drug-related overdoses have risen “exponentially” since 1999, with much of the increase attributed to opioids. In 2017 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 68% of the 70,200 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.

Whether an individual is using alcohol, opioids, cocaine, or heroin, Dean and the Gateway Foundation address the underlying emotions and motivations that lead to the maladaptive behavior. It is recognition that no two individuals share the same story or path to addiction that compels Gateway to take an evidence-based, individualized approach to treatment. 

“Every client has different needs based on a lot of different factors and variables. Some individuals may need housing. Others may need resources for domestic violence. Some clients are looking to start a new career or find work, while some struggle with legal situations and consequences. So, we base our treatment approach and plan on that individual's circumstances, goals, and their values,” he added.

Of course, the man with four advanced degrees would never be content stopping his career path where it is now. Dean continually seeks ways to grow and help Gateway Foundation stay on the cutting edge of substance abuse treatment. 

“I see myself continuing to build our analytics capabilities, applying my findings and my research to other Gateway facilities. At some point, I see myself also getting involved with drug policies and working to help reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse. There is a lot of policy around drug and alcohol abuse, but there is also a lot of room for improvement. I want to work on the data part of it and the human part of it, and then help shape and create new policies that will provide better services for clients,” he said.

Dean confesses that working a full day at Gateway and attending Harris classes in the evening forced him to hone his time-management skills. But he added that the prospect of attending classes often re-invigorates him at the end of a long day. 

"I've built this amazing network of very motivated, intellectually curious people. I think about a third of us come from the nonprofit world, a third of us come from the government, and then a third from the private sector. As you can imagine, class discussions are often lively and bring forth a diversity of opinions and perspectives. It allows me to adopt new ways of thinking about problems, and at the same time, make these critical connections with my classmates who want to change the world,” he concluded.