California invests in behavioral health careers to address opioid crisis and DUI programs


Hannah Saunders


Today California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) announced that it will disperse $18 million in grants to assist students who are 18 years and older with gaining hands-on experience in behavioral health careers through the Mentored Internship Program. The department also awarded over $4 million to 54 driving under the influence (DUI) programs to support connections to resources and referral options for treatment, with the goal of reducing opioid-related traffic fatalities. 

“Addressing the opioid epidemic continues to be one of the administration’s highest priorities, DHCS Director Michelle Baass said. “At the Department of Health Care Services, we are committed to working with our many partners statewide to monitor and address opioid and fentanyl overdose trends, and closely collaborating with stakeholders to support local prevention and intervention efforts.”

Baass mentioned how the awards will assist with recruiting the next generation of behavioral health professionals, who will “combat the opioid crisis,” and offer treatment and resources to those who need them.


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This announcement comes shortly after the department’s recent investments to tackle the opioid epidemic. On Jan.11th, DHCS announced $52 million towards providers of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) services to support the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of opioid use, substance use disorder (SUD), and recovery. 

Last December, DHCS also announced the investment of $12 million to tackle youth opioid use. As a broader initiative of California’s MAT Expansion Project, which focuses on increasing access to MAT and reducing opioid-related overdose deaths, grants became available to nonprofits and schools. Additionally, DHCS announced a $3.4 million investment to transform medical practices to address opioids, and in November of last year, the department announced $58.5 million will go towards community-based and tribal organizations involved with youth substance use prevention. 

The Mentored Internship Program is part of DHCS’s Behavioral Workforce Development initiative, and allows for nonprofit provider organizations and county-operated providers of behavioral health services in underserved and diverse communities to apply for grants to support internship programs.

The goals of the internship program are to train behavioral health providers and professionals that specifically serve those with opioid use disorder (OUD) or who are at risk; to enhance the ability of behavioral health providers to effectively prevent, treat, and assist individuals with recovery from OUD; and to better reflect individuals in need of services by providing behavioral health career opportunities for professionals with lived experiences. 

Additional program goals include assisting behavioral health agencies with implementing internships in conjunction with local educational institutions; and enables behavioral health agencies to make job offers to interns who have completed the program. 

Organizations can apply for up to $500,000 to develop, implement, and maintain a Mentored Internship Program that will create a sustainable substance use disorder workforce. DHCS will prioritize organizations that propose to specifically train more professionals who work with individuals who are at risk or have developed OUD. The application deadline for round two of the grants is on March 15th. 

The Mentored Internship Program was established in 2022 in response to the variety of California-specific behavioral workforce needs assessments and recommendations, which showed a shortage of professionals across behavioral healthcare careers. The program is funded by the Opioid Settlement Funds.

Funds for the DUI Medication Assisted Treatment Integration and Outreach Pilot Project will be dispensed from Feb. 1st through June 30th, 2024, and is funded by federal money from State Opioid Response III

According to DHCS, about 118,000 individuals who have driven under the influence enroll in DUI programs annually, and the majority of DUI arrests and convictions continue to be based only on the influence of alcohol. This pilot project will provide outreach and intervention services to participants with underlying OUD and or SUD, and is part of DHCS’s MAT Expansion Project.