Shawn Lawrence, associate professor of social work, has received a $915,000 federal grant that will significantly increase the number of people in Central Florida who are screened and treated for substance abuse.

More than 1,000 UCF social work students and 500 local health care practitioners will be trained to use a simple protocol named “SBIRT” to quickly assess a person’s level of risk for substance abuse and choose the appropriate treatment or referral.

The goal is to grow Central Florida’s workforce capacity to use SBIRT in the region’s health systems, Lawrence said of the three-year grant awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).

SAMSHA developed SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral. Research shows the protocol is effective in reducing and preventing the development of substance abuse disorders.

“Abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs significantly impacts public health and health care costs, yet it is among the most preventable of health problems,” Lawrence said. “Expanding the SBIRT workforce will help reduce both the personal and financial costs of substance abuse.”

The project begins this fall with UCF faculty members who teach in Master of Social Work program taking SBIRT training themselves. Once they’ve completed the training they will redesign the M.S.W. curriculum to include instruction on SBIRT and opportunities for students to practice the protocol using web-based simulated patient-client interactions.

The revised curriculum will focus particularly on preventing substance abuse disorders in Central Florida’s most vulnerable populations, including veterans, the elderly, the homeless and those with chronic illnesses.

“We want all of our M.S.W. students to have the appropriate knowledge, skills, attitudes and motivation to apply SBIRT when they enter their clinical field placements,” Lawrence said.

M.S.W. students interested in careers in clinical social work must complete 1000 hours of clinical education in the community to earn the degree.

UCF social work faculty members who develop expertise in SBIRT will also teach the protocol to professionals at social service agencies and hospitals throughout Central Florida. The faculty members will make on-site presentations, moderate webinars and offer opportunities for professionals to earn Continuing Education Units.

“In addition, we’ll work to develop partnerships in systems throughout Florida to promote the value of universal screening for substance abuse disorders in vulnerable populations in our state,” Lawrence said.