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Social work, dental health will partner on new SAMHSA grant

image of Lisa de Saxe Zerden, Ph.D.
Lisa de Saxe Zerden, Ph.D.

Lisa Zerden, Ph.D., has received a $200,000 training grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help social work and dental health professional students learn more about substance use disorders (SUD). Zerden, who is senior associate dean for MSW education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work, will implement this new project in collaboration with the Adams School of Dentistry and support from the UNC Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice.

The project, known as i-STEP (Interprofessional Substance Use Disorder Education and Training), will create a specialized SUD curriculum for UNC-Chapel Hill students in three areas of study: Master of Social Work (MSW), Doctor of Dental Studies (DDS) and Dental Hygiene (DH). Over the two-year project, 150 students will receive this specialized SUD content to help inform their future work as practitioners.

The i-STEP curriculum will focus on four key elements that apply to SUD treatment and interventions across all health disciplines:

  • Knowledge of the drugs, including opioids, that are commonly involved in SUD
  • Practice of the SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) approach
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) skills
  • Reduction of stigma surrounding SUD

Over the project’s two-year span, i-STEP will host training events and develop a “toolkit” of materials to help health care professionals respond to SUD in their patients.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2016), 21 million Americans have SUD but only 3.8 million have received treatment for the disorder. Interprofessional practice — which includes social workers providing behavioral health services for patients in dental and medical offices — is an effective way to reach those Americans who have not yet received treatment, Zerden said.

“i-STEP will prepare a future workforce who understands the increasing complexity of SUD … focusing on behavioral and oral health providers can diagnose, prevent and treat SUD,” Zerden added. “Substance use impacts everyone in society, and this grant will help all types of behavioral health and oral health providers be more competent in recognizing and responding to it in their practice.”

The i-STEP project will begin in fall 2020.