InvisALERT Solutions – ObservSMART

Internet Distance Learning Initiative Focuses on How to Treat Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) funded Evidence-Based Practices Technical Assistance Center (EBP-TAC) at New York State Psychiatric Institute ( is introducing a distance learning initiative that focuses on evidence-based integrated treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. In 2007, 5.4 million adults in the U.S. had a co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorder, yet only 10% received treatment for both.5 The remaining 4.9 million faced increased re-hospitalization, homelessness, incarceration, violence, economic hardship, and infectious diseases, leading to higher treatment costs and family burden.3 Evidence-based integrated treatment for COD mitigates these risks by reducing substance use, 2, 3 which leads to lower treatment costs and promotes individuals’ recovery, independent living, and employment.1,4

In November of 2009, the Center will begin offering online training modules, webinars, and supports designed to help practitioners, clinical supervisors, and agency managers and administrators implement integrated treatment in their settings. Funded jointly by the New York State Office of Mental Health and Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the distance learning initiative will offer 35 online modules that can be accessed from any internet location, at any time of day. These highly interactive and engaging modules, built collaboratively with partners at Dartmouth, will include recovery stories, presentations by experts, interactive exercises, panel discussions by experienced practitioners, clinical vignettes, and links to additional resources. Additionally, distance supports, in the form of online practice improvement networks, will offer webinars, “ask the expert” opportunities, and discussion threads to assist practitioners, supervisors, and agency leaders with implementation.

The advantages to distance learning are many, particularly in this lean fiscal climate. First, practitioners do not have to leave the office for extended periods to obtain training. This saves both practitioner time and dollars that would be spent reimbursing travel or paying for clinical coverage. Second, there are no cancelled trainings (e.g., for weather) that would ordinarily result in lost resources. As noted above, practitioners can log in to complete each 30-minute module any time and from any location that has internet access. Third, with the modules designed each to be just 30 minutes, practitioners should be able to fit the training more easily into their busy day (e.g., when a client cancels an appointment). Fourth, information from training remains available to practitioners continuously. Practitioners can log into the system, re-launch any completed module, and use the menu to navigate to any area of interest. Fifth, practitioners, supervisors, and agency leaders have 24 hour access to electronic copies of important documents (e.g., screening forms), links to internet resources (e.g., videos produced by SAMHSA demonstrating how to run groups for co-occurring disorders), links to online discussion threads, and links to ask the expert forums. Finally, new staff can be trained immediately and consistently. In addition to these benefits, the learning management system that houses the modules maintains transcripts for each individual and allows agencies and other leaders to see who has completed training and to generate summary reports in a number of flexible ways (e.g., individually, by program, by agency, by degree or certification type, by job title, by region, by county, by licensing agency).

We are excited about the early enthusiasm from programs about this distance learning initiative and are looking forward to evaluating and refining the approach as it rolls out. If you would like to learn more about the NYSPI EBP-TAC Distance Learning Initiative, please contact Nancy Covell, Ph.D., Project Director, at (


  1. Drake RE, McHugo GJ, Xie H, et al. (2006) Ten- Year recovery outcomes for clients with severe mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 32, 464-473.
  2. Drake RE, Mueser KT, Brunette MF, et al. (2004). A review of treatments for people with severe mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 27, 360–374.
  3. Essock SM, Mueser KT, Drake RE, et al. (2006). Comparison of ACT and standard case management for delivering integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders. Psychiatric Services, 57, 185-196.
  4. Grella CE, Stein JA. (2006). Impact of program services on treatment outcomes of patients with comorbid mental and substance use disorders. Psychiatric Services, 57, 1007-1015.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008). Results from the 2007 national survey on drug use and health: National findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-34, DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-4343). Rockville, MD.

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