By Carol Polsky | Updated June 23, 2023 | Source: Newsday

Stony Brook University, Empire State University and Alfred State College will share nearly $3 million in state funds for scholarships to prepare students for certifications and advanced degrees in the substance abuse support workforce, Gov. Kathy Hochul's office has announced.

The money comes from $2 billion won by the state through various settlement agreements with opioid manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, Hochul's office said Thursday. Priority for the more than 300 scholarships will go to people currently working at programs run by the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports, Office of Mental Health, and Department of Health.

The 350-hour online courses would prepare students for Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor certification, a Credentialed Prevention Professional credential, or, through Empire State University, a bachelor's degree in addiction studies for those already CASAC-certified. 

Stony Brook will receive up to $1.4 million and offer scholarships for 200 people over two years to prepare them for CASAC certification, with instruction to begin in the fall for one or two groups of 35 students each.

Training would be online with instructors from the School of Social Welfare, according to the school's dean, Shari Miller. Applicants need at least a GED, must write a statement about what motivates them to seek the certification, and provide letters of reference.

"It's an amazing opportunity," Miller said, noting that the training, which she said could cost up to $7,000 depending on the provider, is "not inexpensive."

She said there is an "enormous need" for qualified workers in the field.

Between "the combination of the opioid crisis and the mental health crisis in the country, there is a shortage of skilled and certified people needed to provide services. This is one of the reasons the state is allocating support and dollars to build this workforce," Miller said.

Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which trains counselors and screens and connects people to services, agreed on the need for additional counselors.

Given labor shortages, the "compassion fatigue" of those in health care after the pandemic, and the cost of living on Long Island, "there has to be some incentive from the state to lure people into human services. Having a big heart is not enough," he said.

He said that while his organization had filled vacancies, other groups in the field of "human services, mental health and substance abuse counseling are dealing with staff shortages amid a time of tremendous need for Long Islanders."

Alfred State College in western New York will get $495,500 to support 125 students seeking a CASAC or CPP certification, in addition to its 45 existing scholarships. Empire State University will receive $1 million for scholarships to those who already have those certifications and want to pursue a bachelor's degree in addiction studies to advance into supervisory roles.