Helping hand: Couple specializes in assessment/treatment of substance use disorders


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Kiernan Gamel struggled with substance abuse as a teen and young adult before finding his way to treatment—and going on to help others as a program manager, lead counselor, program coordinator, and substance abuse specialist in the prevention and treatment of chemical dependency.

“I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to access treatment at a young age and begin my career in addiction treatment at the Betty Ford Center,” he says. “I was on fire for sobriety and knew from the very beginning that I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping others find their way to recovery.”

Gamel, who holds a master's degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University with a concentration in mental health and chemical dependency, is a Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS) and Certified Advance Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC). He currently serves as program director at Catholic Charities of Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale counties, overseeing outpatient substance abuse services and managing substance abuse services for seven prisons in Michigan.

His extensive experience includes working at the Betty Ford Center and the Riverside County Substance Abuse Program, both in California; at Crossroads Center in the West Indies, a chemical dependency treatment center on the island of Antigua founded by music legend Eric Clapton; and in Michigan at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Family Services and Children’s Aid, and as a substance abuse services supervisor at Albion College.

In 2015, he and his wife Amelia Leighton Gamel—an assistant professor at Jackson College, presenter, teacher trainer and published author—launched Pacific Substance Abuse Assessments & Treatment Services, an e-business offering and expediting face-to-face and online substance use assessments necessary for clients to restore drivers’ licenses.

“My wife and I are both deeply committed to human service and strive to help people move forward,” Gamel says. “We noticed people who were making positive changes to their lives and trying to acquire assessments to restore their driving privileges to become responsible, contributing members of society were experiencing unnecessary, lengthy delays.”

The e-business, expediting assessments for clients and their attorneys within two business days after the drug screening is received, currently works with clients and attorneys across Michigan and plans to expand to Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana in the next year.

Gamel has seen many changes over his lengthy career.

“Thirty years ago, many people with a substance use disorder had one substance of choice—such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine,” he explains. “Now, things have become more complex. People are often dependent on multiple substances and are often addicted to arousal, a state of brain stimulation and excitement achieved through various modes including gambling, video games, substances, and so on.”

He predicts three major changes will be at the forefront of treatment services in the next decade: technology—including apps, video chats, and telemedicine; primary care physicians will play a greater role in treatment services and diagnosis; and treatment will focus more on brain science and will include a pharmacological approach.

He notes there is insufficient help for addiction issues and is concerned that government budget reductions will further reduce treatment accessibility.

“It’s such a shame because we know it’s far less expensive to treat addiction than it is to criminalize it,” he says. “We need more than a hammer in our toolbox. Treatment is a more humane, compassionate and effective approach.” 

A native of Southern California, Gamel first came to Michigan in 1996 and returned to the Great Lakes State a decade later. He makes his home in Jackson, enjoying the area’s lakes, golf courses, and hiking trails. His leisure time pursuits also include spending time with his wife and family, weight lifting, biking, and swimming.

Gamel is a contributor to the organization and facilitation of the local Heroin Summit, he works with area high schools for the prevention of substance abuse, and he attends various charity events that support non-profit organizations.

“There are many human services initiatives in Jackson that demonstrate the desire and commitment of local residents to help others in the community, that’s one of the reasons we choose to make our home here.” he says.