Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Faculty Chair Awarded for Fighting Opioid Epidemic

Collage of Kirk Bowden photos and awards

Dr. Kirk Bowden has sounded a battle cry for years about the way the United States should treat addiction and the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Kirk Bowden
“The solution is education,” said Bowden, a nationally recognized addictions and counseling expert who serves as Rio Salado College’s Faculty Chair of Addictions and Substance Use Disorders and Professor-in-Charge of Ottawa University’s Addiction Counseling Program.

His message is being echoed by other behavioral health specialists and finally gaining traction among local and federal agencies and community leaders.

“Prison is not the answer,” said Bowden. “We need to treat addiction as a disease, not as a crime and the only way we’re going to do this is through education. I’m talking about education for people living with addiction, their loved ones and service providers— especially their medical doctors and therapists— really all of us.”

Bowden at 2019 NAADAC
Award Ceremony 
Bowden was recognized this October for his efforts to champion addictions education by NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, which honored him with the 2019 Educator of the Year Award. He was also recognized by the International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education (INCASE), which presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award named after Dr Dick Wilson, a renowned California addiction counselor, educator and pioneer in establishing and upholding academic accreditation standards for addiction counselor programs.

“[Bowden] has successfully advocated nationally and in the state of Arizona for improving addiction counselor education and licensing standards.” Said former INCASE President Dr. Edward Reading, who presented Bowden with his lifetime achievement award at the NAADAC conference in Orlando, Florida earlier this month. “His successful efforts provide for greater protection of the public and improves the perception of addiction counseling professionals.”

photo of NAADAC award
“Bowden has written more than 30 addiction counseling courses and spends countless hours with students in-person, on the phone, and electronically to help them succeed and achieve their educational goals,” cites a recent NAADAC press release. “He has worked diligently to build outstanding addiction counselor education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. As a mentor to many, Bowden leads by example and shows his students how to navigate the addiction profession and provide the best care for the clients they serve.”

Bowden is a resident of Gilbert, Arizona who is originally from Vernal, Utah. He began his career in addictions counseling education 30 years ago.

Rio Salado hired Bowden in 1997 to chair its in-person Chemical Dependency Counseling Program, which at the time was serving a small cohort of 50 students— most of whom were in addiction recovery and trying to juggle full-time jobs, families and their schoolwork. Bowden began pioneering online learning with the college to make learning more accessible. Since then, he has personally developed and produced more than 30 online addiction counseling courses, which now serve nearly 5,000 students annually as part of the college’s Addiction and Substance Use Disorder program.

“We are deeply honored by Dr. Bowden’s long-time dedication, passion and leadership,” said Interim President Kate Smith. “We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his relentless pursuit to help people recover from addiction.”

Bowden has worked with Rio Salado faculty, other experts in the field and accrediting addictions and counseling agencies to create educational content to help professionals stay relevant, informed and connected.

Photo of Bowden at 2017 ACA Congressional breifing
Bowden at 2017 ACA 
Congressional briefing
Bowden has received numerous awards and appointments for his outstanding achievements in addiction and counseling education through the years and has been invited to provide expert advice and testimony about opioid use, including a Congressional briefing about the nation’s opioid epidemic hosted by the American Counseling Association in April 2017.

As a longtime advocate for continuing education and a proponent for establishing standards for addictions counselors and educators, Bowden has worked to create change in the classroom, through policy and by leading grassroots efforts. Among his priorities has been a call for state behavioral health regulatory/licensing boards to implement a requirement that behavioral health professionals have addiction-specific education and experience before practicing addiction counseling independently. Most states still do not have this requirement.

Bowden standing next to Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and guests
Bowden at 2015 Rosalynn Carter 
“What we find a lot of times is that individuals who are providing service have no education, experience or training in addictions,” said Bowden. Most counselors, social workers, psychologists are not required to have a background in addictions. What’s frightening is that these individuals are practicing outside of their scope.”

“The people of this country need to be protected and deserve to have counselors who are educated, well-informed and knowledgeable about the latest issues, treatments and news about addiction treatment and recovery,” said Bowden. “It’s up to us to lead the charge to resolve this conflict by staying informed and relevant, by increasing awareness about the importance of counseling and empowering the people we serve with information and resources to overcome addiction.”

Bowden and his collaborators develop coursework for professionals and non-professionals alike.

“Many of our students are parents, teachers and social workers, who, through their daily lives and jobs, encounter people with addiction issues,” Bowden said. “They complete our seminars and courses for a variety of reasons.”

“Most of us are affected by the opioid epidemic,” said Bowden. “It’s difficult to escape when 130 people die from opioid overdose every day and more than 700,000 lives have been claimed from 1999-2017. We’re in this together, and the only way out is together— and through education.”

Poster for Rio Salado ASD program.  Image of a woman's eyes.  Text: Help Make Recovery Possible

Rio Salado College is the only community college in Maricopa County designed to offer classes that meet academic requirements for licensing through the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners and serves as one of the largest addiction studies programs in higher education. The college offers online classes, certificates, an Associate Degree in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders and continuing education coursework, which are accredited by the California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators and the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission.

Visit for more details.

Kirk Bowden, PhD, MAC, NCC, LPC, is a member of the American Psychological Association's Society of Addiction Psychology board of directors and past president of NAADAC. He has served as the chair of the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners and chair of its Substance Abuse Counselor and Professional Counselor Credentialing Committees. Bowden is a board member and past president of INCASE.

By Rio Salado College Media Relations Manager Annette Flores