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Project ASSERT celebrates 20 years

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Project ASSERT (Alcohol & Substance use Services, Education, & Referral to Treatment), which provides lifesaving services to Yale New Haven Hospital Emergency Department patients with substance-use disorders.

Given the program’s success, and in response to the rapidly escalating opioid crisis, the Yale School of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine has partnered with Yale New Haven Health to expand Project ASSERT across other YNHHS emergency departments and clinics.

The joint university-hospital effort recently received a $4.8 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide services in Greater New Haven, Bridgeport and New London. With some of Connecticut’s highest numbers of opioid-overdose deaths, these cities have the greatest need for increased access to substance-use disorder (SUD) services.

Established by the Yale New Haven Hospital ED in 1999, Project ASSERT has connected more than 52,200 ED patients with community-based alcohol and drug treatment services. The program now employs six health promotion advocates who work with ED patients seven days a week. Recently, the program began collaborating with the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine and partnered with the Yale Addiction Medicine Consult Service (YAMCS), a multidisciplinary service for inpatients. Gail D’Onofrio, MD, YNHH chief of Emergency Medicine and Yale School of Medicine chair of Emergency Medicine, is principal investigator for the project.

“I am excited about the collaboration with hospital and community leaders throughout Yale New Haven Health,” she said. “By greatly expanding the geographic region we serve, this grant will allow us to enhance partnerships and serve a broad range of patients with substance-use disorders.”

YNHHS Project ASSERT will expand screening, intervention and referral services to patients at risk for or having mild to severe SUD. Project ASSERT aims to train 1,125 providers and staff over five years at each participating site on Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment, an evidence-based approach to identifying and treating individuals with SUD. The program also will integrate screening tools into Epic for participating primary- and emergency-care settings and prepare 20 or more primary-care providers to prescribe specific medication for opioid-use disorder.

Connecticut is among the 10 states with the most opioid-related overdose deaths, with 27.4 deaths per every 100,000 people. Opioid overdoses kill more people in the state than car crashes or gun violence.

“We are extremely proud that for 20 years, Project ASSERT staff have been at the forefront of battling substance-use disorders, including the opioid epidemic,” Dr. D’Onofrio said. “We hope that expanding the project will be a huge step toward reducing morbidity and mortality associated with all substance use disorders.”