Tackling the Opioid Crisis in Collaboration

UConn Health is working with Community Mental Health Affiliates to carry out a recently launched intervention program that focuses on vulnerable populations by removing barriers to treatment and resources.

(Getty Images)

UConn Health is part of a federally funded effort to address the opioid crisis in partnership with the Connecticut nonprofit Community Mental Health Affiliates, Inc.

Backed by a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CMHA has launched the IMPACT program. IMPACT stands for Intensive Medicated assist treatment Person Approach to Community Treatment. It places CMHA staff within local shelters to bring services directly to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“CMHA designed this program in-house,” says CMHA Chief Program Officer Grace Cavallo. “We have an ongoing opioid epidemic, and we created this program to give us the flexibility we need to reach and engage people who wouldn’t otherwise seek out services.”

Understanding that basic needs must be met before recovery can be considered, this approach addresses treatment access barriers such as housing, and transportation issues, by bringing treatment to them.
— Janice Vendetti

IMPACT is one of several grants recognized by UConn’s Office of the Provost and Office of the Vice President for Research for its innovative design to address a significant societal problem. CMHA works closely with the UConn School of Medicine, with Karen Steinberg, associate professor of psychiatry, and Janice Vendetti, a health services researcher in the Department of Public Health Sciences, serving as evaluators on the grant to assist with data collection and reporting.

Janice Vendetti portrait
Janice Vendetti is a health services researcher in UConn Health’s Department of Public Health Sciences. (File photo)

“Individuals experiencing homelessness experience high rates of substance misuse and opioid overdose, and substance use disorders can prolong homelessness and complicate treatment,” Vendetti says. “IMPACT’s novel approach utilizes extensive outreach in the community, via peer support and intensive case management services and engages clients literally ‘where they are’ by providing on-site medication-assisted therapy and behavioral health services at the shelters. Understanding that basic needs must be met before recovery can be considered, this approach addresses treatment access barriers such as housing, and transportation issues, by bringing treatment to them.”

Beyond providing training and analytic support for data collection and reporting, Vendetti works with CMHA staff to conduct and guide the process and outcome evaluation, measure effectiveness, and suggest adjustments when needed.

Karen Steinberg portrait
Karen Steinberg is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry at the UConn School of Medicine. (Photo by Tina Encarnacion)

“We are looking at supporting individuals with opioid use disorders in linking them to resources, housing, and preventing overdose deaths,” Steinberg says. “This project has some important innovations in that it is focused on a critical and debilitating societal problem of opioid use disorders and attempts to provide tailored, compassionate services that approach the issue from a holistic perspective.”

Initially, CMHA’s IMPACT team was embedded in three local shelters: the Friendship Service Center and Salvation Army in New Britain and the St. Vincent DePaul Mission Shelter in Bristol. Since then the program has expanded to include the Agape House in Bristol. The IMPACT team provides substance misuse and mental health training and distributes lifesaving naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, to all participating shelter staff and volunteers.

Since CMHA’s expansion into additional shelters, over 80% of engaged program clients have enrolled in MAT (medication assisted treatment) for opioid use. This opens the door for individuals to receive additional peer and recovery support services, and enables IMPACT team members to connect them with primary health care, sober housing, and other resources to help ensure success in long term recovery.

“The homeless population tends to be unseen, or seen as less, and we’re very excited for the recognition this program is receiving,” said IMPACT Program Coordinator Marisa Giaccotto. “There is a fear of being judged, a hesitation of receiving services within the community. Our ability to meet individuals in their space, like a shelter, builds that trust and increases their chances of receiving the life-saving treatment and care they need and deserve.”

For 47 years, Community Mental Health Affiliates, Inc. (CMHA), a private, nonprofit behavioral health treatment provider, has been caring for individuals and families living with mental illness, struggling with addiction, and adjusting to challenging life circumstances. Headquartered in downtown New Britain, with offices throughout the city and in Waterbury, CMHA’s nearly 350 employees provide therapy, connection, and compassion to more than 7,000 individuals each year. CMHA is Connecticut’s first fully Joint Commission-accredited behavioral health home and is a SAMHSA-certified community behavioral health clinic (CCBHC).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.