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April 2, 2019

Research center adds regional substance-abuse prevention effort to its umbrella

Written By: Tom Ziemer

Through two decades of managing multi-state projects and effectively disseminating evidence-based practices to address health challenges, the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has established itself as a leader in implementation science.

That reputation—along with its setting at a top-tier research university—has helped earn CHESS a prominent role in a new approach to improving mental health and addiction treatment and substance-abuse prevention across the United States.

 Todd Molfenter
Todd Molfenter

In late 2018, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded the research center a five-year, $2.9 million grant to operate the Prevention Technology Transfer Center for the Great Lakes region, making CHESS home to the district’s technology transfer centers for all three SAMHSA focus areas: mental health, addiction and prevention.

CHESS is one of just two institutions nationwide to house all three regional centers as part of SAMHSA’s effort to move away from a nationally centralized model of training and technical assistance for organizations and workers. The administration believes that employing a regional model will allow each center to better understand and respond to the unique challenges facing its region’s populations and broaden access to the latest evidence-based interventions.

“We have pretty strong connections in the region,” says CHESS Deputy Director Todd Molfenter, who directs all three technology transfer centers. “We want to continue to be able to understand the needs and respond to them in partnership with local stakeholders. We have these three centers, but if you look at it from the patient or individual’s perspective, the lines are very blurred. As these challenges overlap, you really want to go where the issues are and then the programming can follow.”

CHESS, which was founded by now-Professor Emeritus David Gustafson, is part of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Through the Great Lakes PTTC, CHESS will coordinate and deliver training, tools and technical assistance to local organizations and workers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.

The substance-abuse prevention field ranges from efforts to temper use in the first place to measures to thwart overdoses, with workers coming from schools, clinics, public health departments, community-based organizations and more.

In addition to serving the region, the Great Lakes PTTC will share expertise with other regional centers around three topics: overdose prevention; education and distribution of naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses; and anti-stigma efforts.

Those issues, like many that fall within the prevention field, overlap with mental health and addiction treatment.

“By having all three centers under one umbrella, we’re able to break down some of those silos and address some of these issues that cross all three areas,” says Julia Parnell Alexander, co-director of the PTTC. “A good example of that is when we look at the intersection of opioid overdose and suicide. There are often shared risk factors and protective factors, so the field is starting to look at that intersection as not solely substance-use disorder and solely mental health, but bringing them together in the prevention field.”