Lauren Scarpiello
Einstein Untold: Unsung Heroes and Unknown Stories

Social Worker Brings Life Experiences to Opioid Use Disorder Care

By on 09/07/2021
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One in an ongoing series

As a social worker in a busy urban hospital emergency department, Lauren Scarpiello could be expected to be cynical.  

Scarpiello is part of a team in the Emergency Department of Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia that focuses on providing treatment to patients suffering from opioid use disorder.

Because substance abuse is often intertwined with other social and medical issues, she sees patients who arrive to the ED for many other reasons – shootings, domestic violence, every kind of trauma. Despite the team’s best efforts, some patients come back again and again.

But Scarpiello is anything but cynical.

Understanding, Not Judgment

She recognizes that these patients can often be viewed by society as individuals who brought their trouble on themselves. But she never judges them, because her own life is an example of how misguided stereotypes can be.

At one time in her life, Scarpiello abused drugs. She was a victim of domestic violence.

When she reveals her background, she’s often met with surprise.  “One of the things I get all the time is: ‘You don’t look like an addict. I never would have guessed you’d do that kind of thing.’”

Scarpiello’s focus is to help patients regardless of what brought them to the emergency room.

“Our society and culture has become one of judging people rather than understanding how they got into a situation,” she says. “My goal is to find out how they got into a situation rather than judge how they did.

“Either way, it doesn’t matter. Everyone deserves to be listened to, and at the end of the day, we’re human beings. Maybe sometimes we turn a bad corner. We all make mistakes.”

Surgeries, Addiction and a New Life

Scarpiello’s path to addiction began when, as a teenager, she required seven surgeries a few months apart.  “I was chronically getting anesthesia and pain meds every few months, and it played a big role in my addiction,” she says. 

At the age of 22, Scarpiello hit bottom, she says without elaboration.

She got clean. She went back to school when she was 23. She got two associate’s degrees at Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University, then kept going.

“I got my bachelor’s degree in a year and my master’s in nine months,” she says. Part of that time, she was also pregnant, then raising her daughter alone, and working, sometimes two jobs.

Now, she’s at Einstein, where she’s grateful for the colleagues who share her compassionate perspective. Scarpiello works with two Certified Recovery Specialists in a newly created Opioid Use Disorder program, along with other key stakeholders from the ED, the Einstein Crisis Response Center, the inpatient Social Work and Care Management staff, and outpatient treatment facilities and contacts.

“It’s a blessing to work with these amazing, kindhearted and smart people here,” she says. “They really care about our patients.”

Meeting People Where They Are

Scarpiello sees every patient as an opportunity to say or do something to change the trajectory of his or her life. Because no one can predict whether an addict will continue to spiral downwards and potentially overdose, or recover and lead a productive life. She has seen both.

“My goal is to meet the patient where they are,” she says.

The optimal goal for someone abusing drugs is to get him or her into a detox program, for instance. “But maybe they can’t go because they have young kids at home or a job or other circumstances. My goal is to come up with a plan that meets their needs and put it into action as quickly and efficiently as I can.”

Scarpeillo has a lavish sense of compassion, an intense faith that no one is beyond redemption, that everyone should be treated with respect as a human being – regardless of what brings them to the hospital.

“I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes because I do understand that anything can happen to anyone at any time,” she says.

Cynical? Not by a long shot.

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