UTEP Awarded Grant to Train Students in Substance Abuse, HIV, Hepatitis C Prevention

The University of Texas at El Paso has been awarded $892,089 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention to increase awareness about substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) among minority college-age youth.

The grant is from SAMHSA’s Minority Serving Institutions Partnerships with Community-Based Organizations initiative. UTEP will form a partnership for integrated substance abuse, HIV and Hepatitis C virus prevention with Aliviane Inc., an agency that provides drug and alcohol treatment and other behavioral health services, and International AIDS Empowerment, an organization that provides services to people living with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The goal is to prevent or reduce substance abuse, HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV) virus among minority young adults through a peer-driven and community-driven approach, explained Thenral Mangadu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in UTEP’s Department of Public Health Sciences and the grant’s principal investigator. João Ferreira-Pinto, Ph.D., director of research and special projects in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences, is the co-principal investigator.

Four hundred undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 24 will be trained over the next three years to educate 20,000 minority youth, including UTEP students, about drug use and STD prevention through evidence-based practices, including social marketing, such as Facebook, text messaging, mobile health and eHealth technologies. Researchers also expect to reach 1,500 minority youth each year through behavioral interventions on campus and in the community.

“The strength of this project is that we are able to leverage UTEP’s 21st century student demographic to connect with minority youth in the community,” Mangadu said. “The majority of our students are minority youth who are Hispanic and come from El Paso and the surrounding areas, and they are going to be the bridge between campus and community for integrated substance abuse, HIV and HCV prevention. Our students will be the agents of change on the UTEP campus and in surrounding communities.”

Researchers will start by conducting a needs assessment guided by minority youth, which includes focus groups and community meetings on campus and in the community. The purpose is to identify existing regional gaps in substance abuse, HIV and HCV prevention and establish priorities. Students will be trained by Aliviane and International AIDS Empowerment on substance abuse and STD education and prevention starting in fall 2015.

“As a nonprofit behavioral health agency, Aliviane, Inc. is excited to partner with UTEP’s faculty and student body to foster educational opportunities in the community and to raise awareness of key issues specific to substance abuse and communicable diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C,” said Guillermo Valenzuela, Aliviane community affairs officer. “We’re honored to be a part of this partnership, along with International AIDS Empowerment, and are looking forward to contributing our 44 years of experience to such an important SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment initiative.”

“El Paso’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities have been isolated, invisible and largely neglected,” said Skip Rosenthal, International AIDS Empowerment executive director. “This critical project brings together the University with our organization in order to improve the health and well-being of this often forgotten population. We are excited about the impact and look forward to partnering with UTEP and Aliviane.”

SAMHSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 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.

For more information, contact Thenral Mangadu at tdmangadu@utep.edu.