Health Equity for Communities Hard-Hit by Substance Use

opioid and substance use

From 2015 to 2016, opioid-related deaths in Chicago increased 174%, and in 2016, Chicago’s opioid-related death rate was about 1.7 times greater than the state of Illinois and about twice the national rate. Contributing to this crisis are Chicago’s high rates of poverty and segregation, with many vulnerable communities in great need of accessible treatment for substance use.

Beginning in the fall of 2019, the college is offering a new Integrated Substance Use Disorder Training Program, funded by a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. The program will provide specialized training in evidence-based practices to serve individuals with substance use disorders in high-need communities.

Over two years, 20 MSW students will undertake coursework specific to substance use and its treatment. They will also have a field placement in a specialized integrated care setting, where they will be part of a primary care team providing evidence-based treatment for opioid and substance use disorder. It will provide an interdisciplinary experience, with students collaborating with physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, psychiatrists, and case managers, as well as psychiatry residents and psychiatric nurse practitioner trainees.

Lisa Salvadore, the program Training Director and JACSW Visiting Lecturer, underscores the importance of delivering such services in an integrated care setting. “The students will learn very skill-based practical treatment approaches that are evidence-based,” she says, “which is a big plus in an integrated care setting, where we will be able to reach people that otherwise might not receive substance use or behavioral health services.”

The program has the longer-term goal of becoming an accredited substance abuse treatment training program meeting CADC (Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor) requirements. “Having an accredited program will help us increase capacity for training CADC-credentialed behavioral health providers in the Chicago area,” says Salvadore.

For the students’ field placements, the college is partnering with three health centers that serve Chicago’s highest need and highest demand areas:

  1. Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC), serving predominantly African American and Latino communities,
  2. Howard Brown Health, serving communities which include Englewood and West Englewood, and
  3. PrimeCare Community Health, serving multiple communities with high opioid-related death rates.

“We are planning to increase the number of field training sites,” says Catherine Melka-Kaffer, who coordinates students’ field placements. “In conjunction with CADC certification, this will expand access to credentialed evidence-based treatment for vulnerable communities throughout the Chicago area.”

Professor Sonya Leathers, Director and Principal Investigator on the project, adds that training will also be offered to field instructors and college faculty, “to increase our capacity for training students in interventions that are known to be effective with people impacted by substance use disorder.”

“This training program prepares social workers who will provide effective and compassionate treatment services in marginalized communities,” says Creasie Finney Hairston, Dean and Professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work. “Addressing substance use disorder is one of many ways the college advances social justice and health equity.”

Learn About the MSW Program

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number M01HP31358, the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program for $2.3 million (100% supported by HRSA funding). This information, content, and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.