National Council for Mental Wellbeing

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Project Background

From May 2019 to May 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (2020) reported more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. We also know social workers are a significant agent of change in addressing this opioid crisis, as nearly 75% of all social workers work with individuals who use alcohol and substances in a variety of settings.

For more information, visit Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers (bls.gov).

Unfortunately, many social workers lack the experience and training necessary to address Substance Use Disorders (SUDs), which is a direct result of the gap in social work education, as most social work programs do not require courses on SUD assessment or intervention. For more information on SUD-related social work curriculum, visit Exploring Social Work Education: The effect of a harm reduction curriculum on student knowledge and attitudes regarding opioid use disorders (tandfonline.com).

To address both the opioid and drug epidemic and the gaps in social work education and practice, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing ran a two-year Learning Collaborative funded by New York Community Trust, which aimed to help prepare social work students to alleviate substance use challenges and substance-related issues in the populations they serve. To do so, consultants and subject matter experts provided trainings, resources, and technical assistance to support SUD and Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) -related curriculum refinement and internship opportunities. Some of the topics covered in the Learning Collaborative include neurobiology, stigma, use of language and policy, and resources provided on these topics were intended to provide the most current research and information on these topics for faculty to weave into their curriculum and educate students on best practices for working with individuals with SUD and/or OUD. To learn more about the Learning Collaborative, please view the Social Workers on the Frontline of the Opioid Epidemic Learning Collaborative Overview.

For more information on the outcomes and impact of the Learning Collaborative, please view the evaluation brief produced by the project evaluator, Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI).

91% of students somewhat or strongly agreed that they felt prepared to treat addiction in individuals, families, and communities compared with 67% at the start of the learning collaborative.

82% of students somewhat or strongly agreed that their interest in entering professional practice with the intent to address SUD has increased because of this experience.

The top three social work competencies that improved the most in students throughout the collaborative were engaging, assessing and intervening with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.

91% of students somewhat or strongly agreed that their goals were met for increasing confidence to address SUD in practice.

Learning Collaborative Partner Team

Council on Social Work Education

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a national association representing social work education across the United States. CSWE provides a multitude of resources, activities and events that help support social work education and provide leadership and professional development opportunities for social workers.​

NSI Strategies

NSI Strategies aims to help organizations improve their levels of integrated health to better provide health care and services to their communities. They combine their clinical expertise with their guidance on preparation, implementation and sustainability to help organizations successfully implement and utilize clinical workflows, population health management, leadership and more. Nick Szubiak, MSW, LICSW, Principal, NSI Strategies, served as a coach and subject matter expert on the project, given his expertise on providing technical assistance and training on medication assisted treatment, neurobiology, working with social workers at all levels and clinical background.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing is a membership organization that drives policy and social change on behalf of nearly 3,500 mental health and substance use treatment organizations and the more than 1 million children, adults and families they serve. We advocate for policies to ensure equitable access to high-quality services. We build the capacity of mental health and substance use organizations. And we promote greater understanding of mental wellbeing as a core component of comprehensive health and health care.

Michigan Public Health Institute​

MPHI’s Center for Healthy Communities works collaboratively with partners to transform public health systems and improve the health of communities through assessment, evaluation, and continuous quality improvement. They use a community-based participatory approach to projects and offer expertise in a wide variety of services such as conceptualization, design, data collection and management, data analyses, and facilitation and planning.

Participating Programs/Schools of Social Work

This website was created as a part of Social Workers on the Frontline of the Opioid Epidemic, a two-year initiative focused on preparing social work students across the country in addressing and treating substance use and opioid use disorders in practice. This initiative was made possible by funding from the New York Community Trust. For questions, please contact Maura Gaswirth at maurag@thenationalcouncil.org.