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New UT-Arlington Program Trains Social Workers To Help Fight Opioid Addiction

Man holding buprenorphine
Ted S. Warren
Associated Press.
Man holding his bottle of buprenorphine, a medicine that prevents withdrawal sickness in people trying to stop using opiates.

In response to the opioid crisis that continues to grip the nation, a new program at the University of Texas at Arlington is training graduate social work students to be addiction recovery specialists. 

UT-Arlington social work professor Katherine Sanchez talked with KERA's Justin Martin about how the training program works.

“The end goal is to improve chances of long-term recovery for people with substance use disorder,” Sanchez said. “And honestly, having a well-trained and knowledgeable workforce is going to help address the needs of this very vulnerable population.”


Why Social Workers

Social workers can work in many settings. A lot of times they will be in emergency rooms, primary care practices, clinics. They also might work in typical substance use treatment centers. The goal is to take these social workers and give them some specialized training.

What The Training Looks Like

It will be one semester seminar course. I'm actually partnering with an addiction physician at UT-Southwestern, we will be co-teaching the course. 

We're talking about the biology of addiction and the biology of various types of substances. And then, I will be teaching interventions — things like motivational interviewing, psycho-social assessments, how to identify substance use disorders. 

How Students Will Support People With Substance Use Disorders

Students will be placed in clinical settings. They will work alongside a team of providers. They will get training in motivational interviewing, brief interventions. They will have encounters with patients where they'll be assessing for barriers to treatment. 

One of the key treatment modalities right now is medication assisted treatment or MAT — and there's a lot of stigma around MAT. The students themselves will be working in these community settings where by having their specialized training, it will infiltrate the settings themselves with evidence-based practices and really reduce that stigma around the treatment. 

The Stigma Around MAT

Medication assisted treatment (MAT), it's an opioid derivative, so there are a lot of times people assume that because someone is using these therapies that they are still addicted.

There's a lot of thinking around not thinking that it's treatment, but that it's a continued use of a drug — so the treatment itself is controversial.

These students will be trained in understanding the therapy and really going back into the community and educating other providers about the therapy. 

The Response From The Community

We've gotten some attention, particularly from the medical community. There has been a desire in getting our students and having them placed in these settings.

Our first cohort is going to be starting up in the spring. We're just now reviewing applications for that group. Each cohort is going to be small, so maybe 14 or 15 students, and we'll have it over the next three years every semester.

There's a real interest in placing our students in the community as soon as possible and really hiring them after graduation.

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.