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Local counselors, health care providers trained in screening, early intervention for alcohol and drug problems

(PRESS RELEASE)—The Director of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS), Leilua Stevenson, is pleased to announce that Behavioral Health counselors and program administrators from DHSS join health care providers from the Department of Health /Tafuna Health Center this week in an intensive training to implement a new initiative aimed at early identification and treatment of alcohol and drug problems among adults. 

The Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program, locally named, “O le Alofa Project”, is a $9 million initiative to be funded by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration over the next five years. It will place screening for alcohol and drug use in health care settings, including the various public health clinics and LBJ Hospital Emergency Room, and ultimately in schools and private business settings. Trained Wellness Counselors will work alongside the health providers in the clinics to assist those adults who may be at risk for substance abuse problems, working in coordination with the DHSS Behavioral Health Services for those persons in need of more substantive treatment services.

Governor Togiola Tulafono expressed his gratitude for the SBIRT program because it will save money and lives.

“Through screening and early intervention we will save so much in healthcare costs, and more importantly, we can save the lives of individuals as well as save families,” said Governor Togiola. “Training care providers to consistently screen and intervene with early-stage substance abuse before it becomes acutely life threatening will be an enormous saving for us in substance abuse treatment. I want to thank the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration for funding the training, and also to our local Department of Human and Social Services and Department of Health, and to training contractor Pima Pacific Partnership for providing this substance abuse prevention and intervention training for our government employees and our island community.”

“The  Department of Health is pleased to partner with DHSS in supporting innovative approaches in mobilizing resources to prevent and control those who are at risk for substance abuse problems and the harmful use of alcohol, which are risk factors contributing to non-communicable diseases”, said Seiuli Elizabeth Ponauisuia, Acting Director of Health. “I would love to see our people take a little extra time and utilize this free service.”

 “This initiative represents American Samoa’s first real opportunity to integrate primary care and behavioral health services, which is a goal among the three public health agencies,” said Leilua Stevenson.  “So many of the health issues faced by our community have alcohol and/or drug use as a contributing factor. To address this, we need to treat the whole person – head to toe – and no longer treat behavioral health as a separate problem. O le Alofa SBIRT allows us to do that.”

Training is being provided by Pima Pacific Partnership, a long-time contractor with the American Samoa Government.  Pima is a non-profit human service agency based in Arizona that provides youth substance abuse treatment and prevention services for thousands of youth and adults each year.  The agency also serves as a contracted substance abuse treatment provider in Majuro, Marshall Islands, where they have successfully initiated screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment services with the Marshallese community. 

SBIRT services will be piloted next week at the Tafuna Health Clinic, where Wellness Counselors will be working with the doctors and nurses each day.  “We are extremely excited about these new services and believe it will be a wonderful addition to our health care provision,” comments Dr. John Tuitele, Medical Director of the Tafuna Health Clinic.  We ask the community to embrace this new initiative and know that it will help us be a healthier community.”

For more information, please contact Lupe Sunia, MSW, Project Director, at 7336094 or Salilo Julia Foifua, Clinical Director, at 733-6094.