The Intersection of HIV and SUD: An Innovative Partnership to Educate and Support Two Critically Important Workforces


Beth A. Rutkowski, MPH
Co-Director, Pacific Southwest ATTC

It all started back in spring 2004, when Tom Freese and I received a request to set up a meeting with Tom Donohoe, a colleague from the UCLA Department of Family Medicine and Director of the LA Region of the HRSA-funded Pacific AIDS Education and Training Center (PAETC). We had become the administrative home of the Pacific Southwest ATTC in 2002, and many potential community partners were requesting meetings with us to see how we could collaborate and share PSATTC resources. But Tom Donohoe was different. He said he had resources (e.g., money) to share with us, and he meant it. This initial meeting marked the beginning of a 15+ year collaboration that has impacted thousands of HIV and SUD clinicians throughout Region 9 and beyond.


The partnership began with a focus on methamphetamine. Both Centers had been working independently on developing training curricula and resources on the topic, but when the PAETC received supplemental funding to work on the U.S./Mexico border, they immediately contacted us to help conduct needs assessments and deliver trainings. The first series we co-sponsored was “HIV, Methamphetamine, and Women.” Traveling and training with the PAETC and PSATTC faculty not only improved our respective knowledge of substance use disorders and HIV, but it helped us all sharpen our skills as trainers and content developers. We were cross training each other as much as the bi-national participants who came to our trainings. In addition, the four-city tour of the Border was fun. Often, the events that most shape us as trainers are learning and having fun with other content experts in our respective priority areas. One of the most impactful results of this initial project was the development of a “Methamphetamine TIP sheet” for HIV clinicians. The tip sheet has been revised a few times over the years, and is one of the most downloaded products from the AETC National Resource Center website (https://aidsetc.org/resource/tips-hiv-clinicians-working-methamphetamine-users-0).


“It’s been more than 15 years since I first met with Tom and Beth about working together. I remember thinking at the time “this is a no brainer” given the intersects of substance abuse and HIV, but I had no idea how much our collaborations would improve—and transform—our HIV work. We had already been working on HIV and Methamphetamine with some of our University experts and decided to initiate our collaboration developing HIV and Meth trainings focusing on providers serving Latinos in LA County. These trainings were well received and started our being “connected at the hip” for much of the next 15 years…I have to say if you work in an AETC and have not yet collaborated with your local ATTC, please do so, and vice versa.” ~ Tom Donohoe, August 2019


A few years after the PAETC and PSATTC initiated the U.S./Mexico Border Training Series, we were encouraged to expand our partnership to encompass the other Region 9 Federal Training Centers, including the Curry International Tuberculosis Center, California STD/HIV Prevention Training Center, and Cardea Services. The resulting product was the development and delivery of multiple one- and two-day training events focused on the treatment of HIV, STDs, TB, hepatitis C, family planning, and substance use. The events were held along the U.S./Mexico Border, as well in non-border communities such as Fresno, California. In each of these endeavors, the priority focus was on the provision of high quality, up-to-date data and best practices on how to treat people with HIV, TB, STIs, and substance use. We made a lot of amazing friends along the process, and trained hundreds of clinicians.


“Our U.S./Mexico border work has led to 15 years of very collaborative, productive, important, and fun work. Each year we continue to work with the PSATTC to continue our efforts on the border, and to develop curricula and materials that affect the epidemics throughout our region and nationally. In the next year, we will be working with the PSATTC on two new curricula: (1) HIV, MAT and Communities of Color and (2) HIV and Relapse Prevention. Having so many previous collaborations, I know these products will benefit from our joint passion to improve the lives of people we serve through training, TA, and capacity-building services. Through our collaboration with the PSATTC, I think we can make everything better.”
~ Tom Donohoe, August 2019


In 2010, our PAETC collaboration expanded even further when Tom Donohoe introduced us to his PAETC colleague Phil Meyer. Phil had a vision to use carry-over funds to support the development of two brief training curricula geared specifically towards HIV clinicians (target) and focused on the intersection of substance use disorders and HIV. Since meeting Phil nearly a decade ago, we have created nearly 20 products on a variety of topics, including, but not limited to: alcohol and HIV; cocaine, methamphetamine, and HIV; heroin, prescription opioids and HIV; HIV and psychotropics; How Change Happens; integrated treatment; marijuana and HIV; Nature of Addiction and HIV; screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment; smoking and HIV; and substance use, HIV, and special populations (adolescents, women, older adults).


Many of these training products are available for viewing and downloading from the ATTC Product and Resource Catalog, available at: https://attcnetwork.org/centers/global-attc/products-resources-catalog. And several of the training curricula were developed into self-paced online courses available at no charge at: https://hivtrainingcdu.remote-learner.net/.


“In 2010, as the new Associate Director of the Charles Drew University site of the Pacific AIDS Education Training Center, I reached out to Tom Freese and Beth Rutkowski of UCLA’s PSATTC. As it turns out, that was one the best decisions I made in the last decade. What followed has been a nine-year collaboration, which has produced 18 HIV/Substance Use Disorder curricula with four more coming in the next year. The PSATTC has always been open and responsive to our particular needs, customizing content to our very specific target audience. The work has been challenging, rewarding, and equally important, fun. I honestly could not recommend them more.” ~Phil Meyer, LCSW, August 2019


In closing, it is safe to say that our partnership with the PAETC represents one of the most fulfilling and fun experiences of my career at UCLA. As Tom Donohoe mentioned, if you are not already partnering with your local AETC, you should be!

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