Researchers are conducting behavioral health screenings in different health care settings across New Mexico to identify substance use and mental health issues among patients and to increase patients' access to convenient and evidence-based treatment.

The New Mexico Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment program, also helps train peer-supporters for substance abuse and mental health patients.

The project is funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to the State of New Mexico Behavioral Health Services Division. The UNM researchers are partnering with them on the five-year grant.

Deborah Altschul, chief of community behavioral health in the UNM Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said that the idea of the grant is to bring behavioral health screenings into primary care settings.

“By behavioral health we mean substance abuse, depression, anxiety and trauma screenings. People who are going to a primary care or a physical health setting will be screened, and we can identify more people with these issues so that they could get into treatment,” she said.

She said that since the project is funded by a services grant, the majority of the funding is to put services into a variety of carefully selected communities.

“We chose different health care settings, so that we could see how the model works in different settings,”Altschul said. “We have some very rural primary care private practices and then we have emergency room settings, we have the trauma center here at the UNM."

She said that the research team screens every person that comes through. The program's researchers have a goal to screen 10,000 individuals for substance abuse and mental health problems every year.

“Of that [number], we are looking to following up on 20 percent to see how are they doing after the initial meeting. So we do a follow up after every six months to see if the services had an impact,” Altschul said.

She said that the UNM team has placed a behavioral health practitioner and a certified peer-support worker in each primary care clinic to do the screening and help the patients.

“A peer-support worker is someone who has had substance abuse or significant mental health issues and then they get trained on how to provide case management and other support services,” she said.

Avy Kriechman, a psychiatrist specializing in child, adult and family work at the community behavioral health in the UNM Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said that the project was based on a previous study by the team that found that a lot of the people who had substance abuse problems also presented with depression, trauma or anxiety.

“There was also a lot of evidence that for physical disease, if you don’t treat the mental outcomes, then the outcomes for physical disease get worse,” he said.

He said that people with substance abuse and mental health issues and challenges like to get treatment in the primary care settings.

"The idea is that many people with substance abuse and mental issues and challenges do not go to free standing substance abuse clinics. They go to the primary health settings. But the primary care practitioners don’t feel that they have the ability to screen and treat for that. Part of what we do is to help train the primary care people about what the screening is like,” Kriechman said.

Sayyed Shah is the assistance news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.