Press Release

Press Release Baker-Polito Administration Announces First-In-The-Nation Education Principles for Social Worker Education

Core principles address addiction and opioid treatment training at all Massachusetts schools of social work
For immediate release:
  • Governor Charlie Baker | Lt. Governor Karyn Polito
  • Marylou Sudders, HHS Secretary
  • Monica Bharel, DPH Commissioner
  • Joan Mikula, DMH Commissioner

Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Announces First-In-The-Nation Education Principles for Social Worker Education

William Pitman

Governor Baker and Secretary Sudders meet with the deans and program managers from the nine schools of social work at a meeting to formalize the principles.

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito Administration announced a first-in-the-nation set of educational core principles for social workers, the largest force on the front lines of the opioid crisis.  The Social Work Education Core Principles for the Prevention and Management of Substance Misuse are designed to ensure that the 4,300 social work students enrolled in Massachusetts are equipped with the knowledge and skills vital to effectively combat addiction. Governor Charlie Baker was joined at the State House by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, Mental Health Commissioner Joan Mikula, and deans and program managers from the nine schools of social work at a meeting to formalize the principles.

“We are proud to partner with all of the Commonwealth’s schools of social work to ensure the next generation of providers is exceptionally well prepared to prevent and treat substance misuse,” said Governor Baker. “This agreement will help Massachusetts continue the progress we made two years ago when we became the first state in the nation to require medical and dental schools to train their students in substance misuse prevention and care.”

“Massachusetts’ 4,300 social workers are on the front lines of battling the opioid epidemic every day,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “These principles will help ensure future social workers can implement life-saving strategies so that fewer families have to experience this devastating disease.”

The Baker-Polito Administration has increased annual spending for substance misuse prevention and treatment by 50 percent, not including MassHealth initiatives that expand access to residential treatment and evidence-based care for the state’s most vulnerable populations.  The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the deans and program directors of the Commonwealth’s nine graduate schools of social work are the latest to partner with the Commonwealth on this groundbreaking effort to provide future generations of social workers with educational training to prevent and treat substance misuse.

“Almost every front line social worker will engage with a client struggling with substance use disorder or a family with a loved one struggling over the course of their career. They must be equipped with the best clinical tools to help clients navigate a path to treatment and recovery,” said Secretary Sudders. ``We are appreciative of the deans for their commitment to increasing their students’ understanding of the serious impact of opioid misuse.’’

“This is the latest chapter in our ongoing efforts to advance the education and awareness of those who serve on the front lines of helping people affected by the opioid epidemic,’’ said Commissioner Bharel. ``The commitment of our schools of social work strengthens a partnership that has created a sea change in the education of our health and human services workforce in Massachusetts in addressing substance use disorders.’’

As part of the agreement, each of the nine schools of social work will incorporate addiction education and training into their curriculum in the form and manner most appropriate for the institution, guided by the core principles. The nine schools of social work include Boston College, Boston University, Bridgewater State University, Salem State University, Simmons College, Smith College, Springfield College, Westfield State University, and Wheelock College.

These schools of social work now join medical schools, community health centers, and nursing, physician assistant and dental schools, in emphasizing substance use disorder education that already has touched more than 8,500 students in the Commonwealth.

“It is essential that we partner with the social work community to train students how to screen, treat, and care for individuals at high-risk for substance misuse and those already with the disease,” said Commissioner Mikula. “Addressing the underlying behavioral and emotional of needs of individuals will greatly aid in their path to recovery.”



In the appropriate setting, using recommended and evidence-based methodologies, with a clear understanding of the cultural contexts of the individuals they serve, the graduating social work student should demonstrate the independent ability and/or knowledge to:

  • Primary Prevention Domain – Preventing Substance Misuse: Screening, Evaluation, and Prevention
    • Demonstrate an understanding of evidence-based prevention techniques and strategies, including community assessment, the use of data to inform prevention efforts, a focus on risk and protective factors for substance misuse, and other approaches consistent with the Strategic Prevention Framework and other evidence-based strategies.
    • Assess a person’s risk for substance use disorders by utilizing age-, gender-, and culturally and linguistically-appropriate communication, screening, and assessment methodologies, supplemented with relevant available information, including (but not limited to) family history, co-occurring mental health disorders (especially depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD), and environmental indicators.
    • Demonstrate an awareness of how to inform individuals about the risks associated with substance misuse and the neurobiology of addiction, and to coach them about available resources, such as pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatment options, including opioid and non-opioid pharmacologic treatments for acute and chronic pain management.


  • Secondary Prevention Domain – Caring for Individuals At-Risk for Substance Use Disorders: Engaging Individuals in Safe, Informed, and Person-Centered Car
    • Demonstrate an understanding of the substance use disorder treatment and recovery supports system, and how to appropriately refer individuals to their primary care physician, substance use intervention and treatment services, mental health specialists, community-based supports, and/or pain specialists for consultation and collaboration.
    • Demonstrate the ability to complete a multi-dimensional contextual assessment inclusive of substance use and its interaction with symptoms of mental illness, which informs treatment and recovery support recommendations across the continuum of care.
    • Articulate the foundational skills in person-centered counseling and behavior change, consistent with evidence-based techniques, including motivational interviewing, harm reduction, relapse prevention, and brief intervention skills.


  • Tertiary Prevention Domain - Managing Substance Use Disorders as a Chronic Disease: Eliminate Stigma and Build Awareness of Social Determinants
    • Recognize the risk factors for, and signs of, opioid overdose and demonstrate the correct use of naloxone (Narcan) rescue.
    • Recognize substance use disorders as a chronic disease that affects individuals and families physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially. Importantly, substance use affects pregnancies and parent-child relationships.  Addiction  can be treated and recovered from with effective assessment, referral, community supports, and inter-professional collaboration.
    • Recognize and assess their own and societal stigmas and biases against individuals suffering from substance use disorders and associated evidence-based medication-assisted treatment to work toward eliminating stigma.

Identify and incorporate relevant information regarding health inequities, current and historical drug policies, criminal justice practices, and related forms of systemic oppression into planning how to support individuals in the management of their substance use disorder, and recognize that in order to have a better chance at recovery, an individual’s basic needs must be met, including safe and stable housing, primary health care, mental health care, and access to ongoing support services as needed.



Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Announces First-In-The-Nation Education Principles for Social Worker Education

Office of Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito 

Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and members of their administration are committed to making Massachusetts the best place to live, work, and raise a family.

Executive Office of Health and Human Services 

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services is the largest secretariat in state government and is comprised of 12 state agencies, in addition to the 2 soldiers’ homes and the MassHealth insurance program. Our efforts are focused on the health, resilience, and independence of those we serve. Some of our public health programs touch every community in the Commonwealth.

Department of Public Health 

DPH promotes the health and well-being of all residents by ensuring access to high-quality public health and healthcare services, and by focusing on prevention, wellness and health equity in all people.

Massachusetts Department of Mental Health 

The Department of Mental Health, as the State Mental Health Authority, assures and provides access to services and supports to meet the mental health needs of individuals of all ages; enabling them to live, work and participate in their communities.


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