Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong received a three-year grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in August 2019 to train social work students in the fields of Opioid Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorder Treatment.

The University of Maine School of Social Work’s “Professional Opioid Workforce Response” (POWR) program addresses the state’s high rate of opioid overdose and shortage of trained mental health professionals. Over three years, POWR will increase the number of social workers entering the behavioral healthcare field, with a regional focus on central and northern Maine. The project has four objectives:

1) Recruit talented social work students into an integrated behavioral health training program for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment.

2) Provide trainees with comprehensive education in trauma-informed, culturally competent, evidence-based OUD/SUD treatment and integrated behavioral healthcare through specialized field placements, coursework, and additional learning opportunities.

3) Assess POWR Program effectiveness for trainees, field instructors, and non-POWR SSW students and continuously improve implementation.

4) Enhance community and institutional capacity to address OUD/SUD in central and northern Maine by increasing the number of professional social workers working in the region who are trained in OUD/SUD treatment and integrated behavioral healthcare approaches.

These objectives will be accomplished through partnership with OUD/SUD treatment organizations with expertise in integrated behavioral healthcare (Aroostook Mental Health Center, Northern Light Family Medicine, Tri-County Mental Health), trauma-informed treatment (Tri-County Mental Health, Wellspring), and culturally competent treatment approaches (Health Equity Alliance, Indian Health Services – Penobscot Nation, Pleasant Point Health Center, Wabanaki Health and Wellness). POWR trainees will complete academic coursework to support development of expertise. They will participate in a specialized seminar, led by the Project Director, to facilitate integration of knowledge and skills across program components. These seminars, in combination with Community POWR Colloquia, will promote knowledge-exchange and networking across training sites. The POWR Program will also increase community and institutional capacity by hosting Community POWR Colloquia on innovative practices in OUD/SUD treatment. These events will be held at the University of Maine. Community POWR Colloquia will provide a space for behavioral health professionals to meet, communicate, and network to develop shared responses to the opioid epidemic.

By training approximately 30 advanced year masters level social workers over three years in integrative methods of care, POWR will build a network of allied behavioral health providers in central and northern Maine. The POWR Program expands on the School of Social Work’s established track record placing MSW graduates in integrated healthcare settings (Funding Priority). POWR graduates will be well-equipped to provide culturally competent, trauma-informed OUD/SUD treatment in integrated healthcare and community-based settings. Improving access to effective treatment will strengthen community responses to the opioid epidemic, reduce mortality associated with the disorders, and positively impact individuals and families affected by these issues.

A recent University publication describes Dr. Armstrong’s research further can be found at:  https://umaine.edu/research/2019/09/03/program-addresses-opioid-epidemic/