Oct. 19, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 42

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UTHSC faculty lead the nation in new substance abuse education project

Group photo of Project Mainstream team The Project MAINSTREAM team represents three of the five schools at the Health Science Center. (Front, L-R) Drs. Sheryl Kane, Margaret Brackley, and Janet Williams. (Back, L-R) Drs. Marden Alder and Joe Thornton

Four UTHSC faculty members will join an elite team of interdisciplinary health professions educators nationwide in an effort to curb substance abuse. The team is one of only five groups in the nation selected to launch the program called "Project MAINSTREAM."

Project MAINSTREAM is an interdisciplinary, educational effort designed to increase the number of health care professionals who have knowledge and outstanding skills in substance abuse identification, intervention and prevention. Ultimately, the program is designed to curb substance abuse in the United States by teaching all health professions trainees how to screen patients and intervene during clinical visits.

"This is an effort to get a much broader awareness as well as more action in a realm that affects more than 20 percent of Americans," said Dr. Janet Williams, associate professor of pediatrics. "Project MAINSTREAM will train current and future clinicians to know what to say, what to do and where to send patients for help when substance abuse is in some way affecting health."

Dr. Marden Alder, professor in the Dental School; Dr. Margaret Brackley, professor in the School of Nursing; and Dr. Joe Thornton, assistant professor in the School of Medicine worked together to submit the team proposal that was selected for funding through Project MAINSTREAM. Dr. Williams was independently selected as a national mentor for Project MAINSTREAM. She became the UTHSC team mentor when the project was funded.

The team has already begun to work with faculty at the Health Science Center and other American institutions to "mainstream" substance abuse education for all health professions students, rather than concentrating on only those who will specialize in the field. "We're not talking about making each person a sub-specialist. We're teaching health professionals from 15 different fields how to screen for substance use," Dr. Williams said. "The idea is that someone will reach the substance user no matter how they enter the health care system."

The screening process can be as simple as having a patient complete or update a health questionnaire upon arrival for an appointment. Many clinicians already request this type of information for their medical records. Patients however, say that even if they have reported that they smoke or drink, the clinician has rarely addressed the issue. Research has shown that a simple reminder from a health provider that smoking is unhealthy can deter the habit. "Studies have shown that even a very short intervention decreases the amount of substance abuse. By intervention, I mean a less than 10-minute interaction between the clinician and patient," Dr. Alder said.

The team believes it was selected to launch the program in part because of the tremendous amount of support they received from each of their school's chairs and deans. The educational component of this program also compliments the cutting-edge addiction research already in place at the UTHSC. "Our campus is recognized among those having the highest quality research for substance abuse treatment," Dr. Brackley said. "Now we hope to ensure that clinicians know how to implement that research into clinical practice."

The four other groups initiating Project MAINSTREAM nationwide are Baylor College of Medicine in conjunction with The University of Houston, New York University, Northeastern University and The University of Maryland. Seven additional university groups have been selected to enter the project next spring.


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