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Historic accreditation announcement delivered at NCAD conference

September 8, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Group will develop standards for first-ever accrediting of addiction studies programs

In a move that some see as opening the door to uniform licensing standards for substance use counselors, a new commission will begin establishing procedures for the first-ever accreditation of addiction studies education programs at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Attendees of the inaugural National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) learned of the formation of the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission at a Sept. 8 luncheon meeting led by NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals. Representatives of NAADAC and the International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education (INCASE) signed an agreement that formally launches the commission.

In an exclusive interview with Addiction Professional, NAADAC President-Elect Donald Osborn emphasized the financial support of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in encouraging a process that would lead to curriculum and scope-of-practice standards for addiction counselors at all levels. A collaborative committee spearheaded by NAADAC and INCASE leadership has worked for more than three years on this initiative.

Osborn said of SAMHSA, “They know that for this profession to survive, and not be absorbed into social work, psychology, or something else, we need a curriculum. That will establish an addictions profession.”

Osborn said his own involvement in this effort was fueled by comments made to him several years ago by a state legislator in his home state of Indiana. The lawmaker scoffed at the idea of licensing counselors, telling Osborn that addiction counseling could be considered no more than a subspecialty because it did not have a standardized curriculum and scope of practice.

“That lit a fire in me,” Osborn said.

The new commission’s goals are to establish a national standardized curriculum for counselors at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels. Osborn said he believes it will be about a year before education programs will be able to begin the process of seeking accreditation.

He told the NCAD audience, “We’re entering into a new era in the addictions profession.”

Osborn added that some of the work that organizers have completed drew from curriculum standards developed in Indiana, which recently adopted a counselor licensure law that is gaining national attention. He said he also closely studied the process of developing scope-of-practice standards for marriage and family therapists, who are now licensed professionals in all 50 states.

Osborn considers this week’s announcement a major development in the effort to convince more state legislatures to embrace licensure for addiction counselors.

Plenary speakers

At the conference’s opening plenary session, the deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA’s) Office of Science Policy and Communications sought to get attendees “jazzed” about scientific developments that could improve clinical practice.

Lucinda Miner, PhD, also may have helped coin a new word for the field in describing an intervention that could assist recovering persons with relapse triggers.

Miner said that through use of a GPS system to record the whereabouts of an individual, that person could receive an encouraging message via Twitter when he/she enters an area that could intensify the urge to drink. That, in essence, would constitute “Tweetment.”

Miner announced that in November NIDA will sponsor a National Drug Facts Week that builds on a one-day “chat” event for schoolchildren that in its first year attracted 36,000 questions to experts on drug topics. The Nov. 8-14 event is designed to meet a growing appetite for science-based information among young people, she said.

“We realize that scare tactics don’t work with kids,” Miner said. “They need a reliable source for science-based information.”

H. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), used part of his morning plenary talk to discuss the impact of the new health reform law, at a time when the discussion in Washington has turned largely to whether the law could be repealed after the November mid-term elections.

Clark argued that “when the Baby Boomers see the cost of ‘no insurance,’” they may change their mind [about opposing the Affordable Care Act].”

Clark discussed the many ways in which the act will lead to integration with primary medicine. He also lamented that the field has much work to do in preparedness, after a disappointing show of hands from questions he posed about how many attendees possess advanced electronic health record capabilities or have established working relationships with community health centers.

“We under healthcare reform will no longer have to suffer healthcare apartheid, with mental health and substance abuse somewhere ‘over there,’” separated from the rest of the delivery system, Clark said.

The Sept. 8-11 NCAD meeting in Washington, D.C. is being presented by Vendome Group, publisher of Addiction Professional and Behavioral Healthcare magazines, in collaboration with NAADAC, INCASE, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) and NALGAP, The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies.