DANVERS — North Shore Community College is expanding its community health worker program to include addiction-specific training. 

The four-year, $956,188 Opioid-Impacted Family Support Program grant was awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and will fully fund student training in community health work and addiction specialization, according to a press release sent by the college.

Steven Chisholm, program coordinator for the drug and alcohol program at the college and the project director for the grant. said many people working in health care and mental health never received addiction-specific training. In a region that is heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic, this grant could make a huge difference.

“About 50%, half of all people, receiving mental health services through community health programs struggle with addiction disorders on top of mental health concerns,” he said. “So how can you not have addiction training when half of your patients struggle with addiction?”

Chisholm said the courses taught for the program will be North Shore-focused and, in some cases, taught by people personally affected by the opioid crisis.

“The primary project goals include enhancing and expanding training and experiential field opportunities for paraprofessionals who target children, adolescents, and transitional age youth whose parents are impacted by [drugs], as well as family members who are in guardianship roles; developing a registered apprenticeship program; and reducing student financial barriers in order to increase the number of workers specializing in providing specialized addiction support services,” Chisholm said in a statement.

Chisholm said he is particularly excited about the family-focused addiction support training, which will aim to help families “understand and navigate the multiple challenges faced when a loved one becomes addicted, how to seek and evaluate addiction treatment and related supports, and the addiction recovery process in general,” according to a course brochure.

Roughly 80 students have been accepted into the Level I program. Chisholm said they will complete 80 hours of community health worker education required for medical assistant certification, plus 70 hours of addiction and human service-related training.

After completing the initial training, some of the program participants will have the opportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program being developed by the school and several local health care agencies and hospitals, according to Chisholm.

Students accepted in the program, Chisholm said, will receive a $2,500 cost of living stipend. Students that go on to the apprenticeship program will receive a $7,500 cost of living stipend.

The first year of the program will likely only include students already enrolled at North Shore. But in the future, Chisholm said they hope to open it up to people already working in medical and mental health professions.

Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at enolan@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.

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