Saint’s aiding in the opioid crisis

Myki Dee Kim, Staff Writer


In September 2019, Saint Martin’s University received a generous grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help expand professions that help those suffering from opioid addiction. The grant totaled to $1.15 million, and will aid the expansion of workforce from September 2019 to August 2022. The Saint Martin’s program was named the Saint Opioid Workforce Expansion Program (SOWEP), and will provide paid-internships to students who desire to pursue a career in behavioral health services. Students from across numerous undergraduate academic programs such as social work, psychology, and nursing, as well as corresponding graduate-level programs, can apply.

Saint Martin’s students, under the direction of several faculty advisors, will conduct their work in the South Sound region with a mobile clinic to provide care and training in a team-based environment. One of the many goals of SOWEP is to recruit, monitor, and financially support 70 behavioral health trainees, and place them in high-need areas. The specific target demographic for this program outreach are children, youth, and transitional-age youth. The Saint Martin’s based program will also help create a training curriculum for the university and community partners to understand cultural competency, trauma-informed care, integrating behavioral health with primary care, medication-assisted treatment education, and harm reduction models. Social Work student, senior Jayci Gomes, is excited for this grant, and said she has seen the Social Work program grow tremendously in the time that she has been a student. She has stated that this grant will benefit behavioral science students as well as the community at large. 

In the United States, the opioid crisis continues to worsen as well as the need for behavioral health specialists. Opioids connect to the brain and spinal cord and disrupt pain signals to the body and release a euphoric feeling (a “high”) to the entire body. This euphoric feeling is known as a hormone called dopamine. Commonly abused opioids include morphine, codeine, heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. The National Safety Council stated that Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a vehicle crash. According to CNN, in 2019 alone, the United States has found numerous prescription drug manufacturers responsible for the opioid crisis in America and were either found guilty or have pending trials. Billions of dollars are to be filed in settlements at both federal and state levels for those individuals and communities affected by the opioid epidemic.

Tam Dinh Ph.D, Associate Professor in Social Work and SOWEP program director, said, 

“The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)’s program strives to be responsive to the needs of our community and our students.” 

Dinh also stated that the Social Work program has grown over the years, especially in the growth of substance abuse. The program has added a chemical dependency concentration and minor and professional certificates, which will help students who want to go into behavioral science fields  have strong competencies required in this line of work. Irene Hauzinger Ph.D, SOWEP program manager, is also regarded as a substance use expert. As the program progresses, she will begin to implement internship opportunities and training components. She has seen an increase in substance abuse tied to mental health disorders and states that both behavioral health and health professionals must have an understanding and proper background of chemical dependency as there are minimal individuals in the field trained in substance use. Dinh believes that the SOWEP is a “comprehensive, multi-layered, multi-system change effort to rapidly and effectively address the opioid crisis in the region.” The overall program has three goals, which are; paid community-based experiential training, strengthening connections between the community and academics with partnerships to educate and train the behavioral workforce, and to create a strong interdisciplinary and inter-professional training curriculum. As the program continues to grow, Dinh hopes to aid Masters in Counseling (MAC) students in internship opportunities, mobile clinics for social work, psychology, and nursing students, as well as the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary training. 

Saint Martin’s was the only university in Washington to receive one of the 48 opioid workforce expansion grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program calls for accredited higher education institutions or behavioral health professional training programs across all 50 states. The institutions or programs can provide numerous educational components such as psychology, behavioral pediatrics, psychiatric nursing, social work, etc. The purpose of this national program is to ensure that students in behavioral health programs are prepared to enter the workforce upon graduating from their institution or program. This grant will continue to aid the university in the ever growing field of behavioral science and provide students, as well as the community, with adequate resources to help make our home a better place one act of service at a time. 



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