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Students Receive Training in Evaluating Substance Abuse Disorders

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When facing a patient or client with few facts or clues, how do healthcare professionals identify and access possible substance abuse?

Students in Cal State Fullerton’s nursing, social work and human services programs are getting the training and skills to do just that, thanks to a three-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant. The final year award of $258,521, brings the total award to nearly $700,000.

More than 475 students and nearly 80 community health care professionals from partner institutions have taken part in the Screening, Brief Interventions and Referrals for Treatment (SBIRT) training. SBIRT is part of a national effort to standardize assessments, provide focused intervention and increase effectiveness at recognizing and treating substance abuse.

“The goal of the training is to prevent or detect early, high-risk behavior for alcohol and drug abuse,” explained Beverly Quaye, program director and assistant professor of nursing. “Such behavior, if diagnosed and treated early, can have a big impact on individuals our students will be facing in their future careers.”

Statistics bear out that concern, said Quaye. “We know from law enforcement and health facilities that such individuals will frequent emergency departments or will demonstrate behaviors that are detrimental to themselves or others.”

The skills student learn are set up on patients’ terms — healthcare professionals use an assessment tool of 10 questions that help open up conversations between the nurse, counselor, or social worker, and their patients, and lead to patients contributing to their care, Quaye noted.

Hardy Torres, a senior nursing major who is using it in his practice, said “it’s been very beneficial when interviewing a client who may be at risk for problem drinking. I think the best part of the SBIRT tool is that it enables the healthcare provider to bring up drinking in a non-threatening manner,” he said. “I think clients view their drinking habits differently when put into a risk category that they can see for themselves.”

Recent graduate Jason Sanicola ‘18 (B.S. nursing) remembered using SBIRT training during a family assessment assignment to open dialogue with a Russian immigrant. “SBIRT helped bridge a generation gap of 30 years. In Soviet Russia, drinking vodka daily was customary.

“SBIRT was able to cut through those culturally accepted norms,” he explained. “For the first time the interviewee had a concept of his individual consumption by learning what defined a single drink, be it a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor.

“The physical images initiated the first eye opener. The verbal questionnaire opened up a platform for self-reflection,” Sanicola added. “SBIRT fostered a moment to evaluate daily consumption patterns by providing healthier options.”

Quaye noted that the training “can be used in a wide range of situations beyond substance abuse, such as smoking and dieting,” adding that, based on the success of the grant-funded effort, the grant team is developing a four-hour online certification course that will be ready later this year. “This will allow us to continue to offer the program to our students and area health care professionals on campus, as well as at remote teaching sites throughout Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.”