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University of Pennsylvania enters groundbreaking partnership with treatment provider

May 18, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Initiatives with Phoenix House will focus on intervening early

The University of Pennsylvania and the large nonprofit treatment organization Phoenix House have formed a “science-to-service” partnership that will test early interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol and drugs. The alliance could be described as a case of one marriage leading to another.

The director of the university’s Center for Substance Abuse Solutions is A. Thomas McLellan, PhD, who is married to Phoenix House’s chief clinical officer, Deni Carise, PhD. Carise says her organization’s desire to develop and share high-quality interventions matches well with the university center’s interest in testing science-based ideas in community programs.

The newly announced partnership, which has no defined time frame, will involve several projects. One that is just getting under way will develop motivational strategies to get students in grades 7 through 10 to begin thinking about the decision-making around substance use. The prevention-focused effort will take place in two schools on Long Island.

“The goal is not to develop a program that ‘catches’ kids,” says Carise. “These efforts will be embedded in the healthy living activities taught at the schools.”

She says the age range selected for the services is based on both science and practicality. “At this point they’re getting offered drugs frequently, and perhaps they have friends who are using,” she says.

Another project will implement Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) activities in hospital emergency room settings. Carise says that McLellan recently has worked on the implementation of SBIRT, an emerging strategy to address substance use issues in primary care, in the University of Pennsylvania’s healthcare system.

Carise sees a common thread in some of the projects that will be brought forward as a result of the partnership with the university. “It is important for us to start providing services at stages where people are not at the most acute levels [of illness],” she says.

Phoenix House operates 120 treatment and prevention programs in 11 states, with residential treatment now encompassing only about 40 percent of its overall services. The university’s Center for Substance Abuse Solutions combines the expertise of professionals from the medical, nursing, business, communications, and social policy and practice schools on campus. Carise says this partnership represents the influential academic center’s first such arrangement with a treatment organization.