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Expanding Georgia’s Behavioral Health Workforce for Integrated OUD/SUD Prevention and Treatment with Underserved Populations

This project will increase Georgia’s behavioral health workforce of counseling health psychologists and enhance their competencies in opioid use disorders/substance use disorders (OUD/SUD) prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

  • Sponsor
    Health Resources and Services Administration
    Graduate Psychology Education Program
  • Principal investigator
    Bernadette Davantes Heckman
  • Active since
    September 2019


The primary goal of this training program is to increase the number of counseling psychology/health psychology emphasis doctoral students who will acquire OUD/SUD prevention and treatment expertise in high-need and high-demand areas. In 2014, and for the first time in Georgia’s history, deaths related to drug overdose (primarily opioid abuse) surpassed deaths due to motor vehicle crashes. Recent data show that 93% of people in rural Georgia had limited or no access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) programs.

This project will increase Georgia’s behavioral health workforce of counseling health psychologists and enhance their competencies in OUD/SUD prevention, treatment, and recovery services. Trainees will also have the opportunity to work with three high-need, but historically-overlooked, populations affected by OUDs/SUDs:

  • Rural communities
  • Latinx community
  • Persons living with HIV and/or viral hepatitis and comorbid OUD/SUDs

This project will leverage an ongoing HRSA-funded project (BHWET 17-070) that established numerous partnerships with community-based sites to:

  • Expand internship/practicum sites into inpatient/outpatient OUD and SUD treatments facilities for youth and adults in Northeast Georgia (all 10 counties in which students will train are mental health shortage counties)
  • Strengthen health psychology curricula to include intensive didactic training in evidence-based primary, secondary, and tertiary treatments for OUDs/SUDs, with specific training in integrated treatment for co-occurring/dual-diagnosis disorders
  • Strengthen student competencies to deliver evidence-based prevention and treatment interventions used in integrated and team-based practices and trauma-informed care for OUD/SUD prevention, treatment, and recovery services
  • Enhance field placement supervisors’ skills in inter-professional integrated behavioral health and OUD/SUD treatments to support and guide student-training experiences
  • Develop sustainable linkage to care plans in field placement/internship sites that facilitate the integration of pharmacotherapy, behavioral-health, primary care services, and MATs
  • Leverage our 20 years of tele-behavioral health services to provide confidential and easily accessible telephone-administered OUD/SUD prevention and treatment services to geographically- and psychologically-distant individuals via Georgia’s teleECHO Network

Goals and specific, measurable objectives of the proposed project

The project’s ability to train counseling psychology doctoral students and increase the size and efficacy of the behavioral health workforce will be assessed through the following metrics:

  • Number of students supported
  • Trainees’ future employment rates in behavioral health worksites, including acquiring of NPI numbers
  • Number of sites that support and participate as behavioral health placement/practicum
  • Student-trainees OUD/SUD treatment self-efficacy and inter-professional competencies
  • Number of OUD/SUD clients who receive HIV and viral hepatitis testing
  • OUD/SUD clients outcomes, such as intentions to reduce alcohol and illicit drug use.

All planned activities are highly sustainable and will remain active and in-place after the funding period has expired.

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