CASAA celebrates 25 years providing community service, research and training

Departmental News

Posted:  Nov 07, 2014 - 09:00am

The year was 1988 and much was happening across the United States and around the world. The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running Broadway play ever, opened; the Winter Olympics were held in Canada; and NASA resumed space shuttle flights with Discovery after theChallenger disaster.

It was also December of that year when the first meeting was convened at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine to discuss mutual interests in academic approaches related to alcohol and substance abuse in New Mexico.

That meeting included Dr. Max Bennett, Family and Community Medicine, Dr. Walter Winslow, chairman, Psychiatry and Dr. Leonard Napolitano, dean, School of Medicine. Subsequent meetings were held the following year to develop goals, objectives and a mission. Later, committees were comprised of members from academics, community and political entities.

Once the initial planning was completed in June 1989, the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA) was founded. Its purpose is to conduct research, provide service to the community, and train practitioners and students to improve the lives of those affected by alcohol and drug use.

"CASAA is well-known for several important reasons, particularly as a place where first class addiction research happens." ~ Barbara McCrady, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and CASAA director.

CASAA began through the joining of two groups concerned about alcohol and drugs. The first was a treatment service that provided care to people with alcohol and drug problems in the local Albuquerque community.  At the same time two investigators, co-founders Dr. William Miller (Psychology) and Dr. Philip May (Sociology), were conducting major research programs in the addictions field. The researchers and clinicians came together to bring CASAA into existence.

Now, 25 years later and celebrating its Silver anniversary, CASAA is recognized as Category 3 Research Center (Research Intensive Center) that cuts across campus with faculty representation including the School of Medicine, Psychology, Communication and Journalism, and Economics, and reporting directly to the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Along the way, CASAA investigators have developed and used research to test the effectiveness of most of the psychological treatments currently offered in the addictions field and also have provided training to many of the clinicians in the surrounding communities. Over time, UNM has become well-known in the community for providing clinically useful and scientifically sound clinical training.

“CASAA is well-known for several important reasons, particularly as a place where first class addiction research happens,” said Distinguished Professor of Psychology and CASAA Director Dr. Barbara McCrady. “Researchers seek us out from all over the country and internationally. They want to come here to do short studies and spend their sabbaticals with us to conduct research. We also attract great graduate students. We’re a magnet in that way.”

Supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a variety of Federal agencies, private foundations, county and state government, and UNM, CASAA researchers focus on problems of social importance. CASAA exists to conduct high-quality scientific research to advance knowledge necessary to improve prevention and treatment, and to reduce suffering related to substance use and other addictive behaviors, not only in the State of New Mexico, but also nationally and internationally.

“Over the years, we’ve conducted more than 60 clinical trials of specific kinds of treatments. These clinical trials have provided service to people in the community at the same time that we have tested treatments scientifically,” said McCrady. “That’s something UNM is providing to the community.”

A few well-known research initiatives at CASAA include Motivational Interviewing created by Dr. Miller; research on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) involving Dr. May and Clinical Research Associate Wendy Kalberg; prevention research strategies and projects, and prevention of risky drinking among college students spearheaded by co-founder and Sr. Research Scientist Dr. Gill Woodall; CRAFT or Community Reinforcements and Family Training implemented by Professors Bob Meyers and Jane Ellen Smith; Behavioral Couples Therapy, led by Dr. McCrady; and Mechanisms of Change in Alcoholics Anonymous led by Research Professor J. Scott Tonigan.

“CASAA is involved in a wide range of different kinds of research in the alcohol and drug field; that is part of the reason why it’s such an interesting center to be a part of,” McCrady emphasized. “Our research is not only intellectually interesting, but also has real world meaning. We’re doing research to improve people’s lives.”

For information to help support CASAA's mission, visit: Director's Discretionary Fund.