The opioid epidemic continues to wreak a devastating toll on its victims, their families, and entire communities. In North Carolina, the numbers are particularly grim. According to the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control:
- Five people die from opioid overdoses every day.
- More than 13,000 people in our state died from opioid overdoses between 1999 – 2017.
- The rate of opioid-related deaths is higher than the national average.
- Four areas in North Carolina rank among the top 25 in the country for overdose deaths.
NC State University’s Department of Social Work is taking action, with support from two recent grants totaling $2.24 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
“We’re preparing social workers to respond to opioid and other substance use disorders,” says Jodi Hall, NC State associate professor of social work and principal investigator on the HRSA Opioid Workforce Expansion grants. “We are preparing students to work in integrated behavioral health care settings, particularly in our state’s medically underserved areas.”
A $1.34 million grant will train 84 master’s level clinical social workers over the next three years to work with those struggling with addiction. A separate grant of $899,000 will prepare paraprofessionals in community-based settings to provide addiction-related services. Hall says the clinical social workers will train in community-based experiential sites alongside paraprofessionals, psychologists, pharmacists, nurses, physicians, psychiatrists and others.
“When they complete the Opioid Workforce Expansion Program, they will be well equipped to provide prevention, treatment and recovery services in high need and high demand areas,” she says. “And they will use an interdisciplinary approach that includes in-person services and telehealth.”
Likewise, the program will train paraprofessionals in high-quality integrated or inter-professional team-based agencies that serve children, youth and families impacted by substance use disorders. Hall’s interdisciplinary model will also focus on high-need and high-demand areas of the state.
Hall has administered similar multi-million dollar HRSA projects for NC State’s Department of Social Work over the past five years. These ongoing Behavioral Health Workforce Expansion programs train professionals and paraprofessionals to provide mental health services. Hall is principal investigator for the program aimed at professionals; professor and social work department head Karen Bullock is PI for the paraprofessionals program. Cumulative HRSA grants to the department total $6.43 million.
Hall shared credit for receiving the grants with a number of community agencies and with fellow faculty in NC State’s Department of Social Work. “I knew from the outset that I wanted a collaborative process to tackle issues that are so big in our state and nation,” she says. “Our research showed that the opioid problem, which had been clustered in rural areas, was a growing and unrecognized problem that was likely to get less attention. By using the skills of committed faculty members and engaged community partners, we put together programs that will have real community impact.”
She listed the NC Harm Reduction Coalition, the Governor’s Institute, Healing Transitions and the UNC Center for Health Equity Research among the community agencies who were involved with grant proposals, as well as social work faculty members Natalie Ames, Sarah Ascienzio, Qiana Cryer-Coupet, Alan Ellis, David Fitzpatrick, Maura Nsonwu, Kim Stansbury, Jocelyn Taliaferro and Barbara Zelter.