GW Receives $200K Grant for Education on Substance Use Disorders

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In 2018, approximately 20.3 million people ages 12 or older had a substance use disorder (SUD), according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey. Through a grant from SAMHSA, a team from across the George Washington University (GW) is developing training to help students and health professionals better understand stigma around substance use disorders. 

The project also will provide evidence-based guidance for prevention, screening, diagnosis, and management for individuals affected by a SUD. 

The two-year, $200,000 grant will bring together faculty members from the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), the GW School of Nursing, and the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW (Milken SPH) for an interprofessional educational approach.

“Substance use disorders arise when recurrent use of drugs or alcohol produces significant impairment and clinical concerns, such as health problems, disruptions to daily life, or even disability,” said Reamer Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, senior associate dean for health sciences at SMHS and a co-investigator on the project. “Unfortunately, we routinely encounter patients with a SUD who also suffer from a coexisting mental illness and/or face psychosocial factors that complicate treatment and recovery. Our goal is to leverage the collective expertise of the GW community and the power of interprofessional education to better prepare a health workforce to support individuals and communities facing substance use and mental health issues.” 

Through the grant, curricula will be designed for an array of health professions, including physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and public health professionals. 

An advisory group will be formed to help develop the curriculum, produce assessments, and support implementation across the schools involved, according to project director Zeina Saliba, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at SMHS. The group will include faculty and staff from the various schools, as well as students, to ensure input is heard from all corners of GW.

“Right now, we’re planning to have core classes or lectures, which will be foundational education, coupled with electives that will elevate the different areas of the curriculum,” she noted.

Saliba added that there can be a lot of stigma around addiction. GW not only wants to teach students about the physiology of the illness, but also have the curricula address cognitive biases and social determinants of health and their role in substance use disorders and patient access to care. 

“People with addiction will show up in almost every care setting, they’ll be in the ER, they’ll come in for physical therapy, so our students may interact with patients who need help with this disease no matter where they end up practicing or what they choose for their specialty,” she added. 

The schools also want students to have a chance to hear firsthand from both patients with lived experience with addiction, as well as from family members, Saliba said.

Other GW faculty members working on the grant include Linda Cotton, senior instructional multimedia specialist at SMHS; Karen McDonnell, PhD, vice chair of the Department of Prevention and Community health at Milken SPH; and Kate Malliarakis, PhD, ANP-BC, chair of the Policy, Populations and Systems Community at the School of Nursing.

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