Addiction Education: The Benefits of NASAC Accreditation for the Department of Addiction Studies at the University of South Dakota

Written by John Korkow, PhD, LAC, SAP, Mary Merrigan, Ed.D, LAC, MAC, LPC, CCTP, Diane Sevening, Ed.D, LAC, MAC, and Frank Zavadil, MA, LAC

The Addiction Studies (ADS, 2017) Department has its origins in a National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) federal grant awarded in May, 1973 to train American Indian addiction counselors in South Dakota.  During the first year, instructors taught twenty alcohol-related mini-courses with a focus specifically on issues related to alcohol among the Native American population. Later on, as the ADS Department shifted away from a training focus to offering a full compliment of academic courses with a baccalaureate degree, the program requested and received full status as a University of South Dakota Department in 1977 from the South Dakota Board of Regents. In conjunction with the department offering education for students to acquire addiction certification in the state, in 1984 ADS developed and offered the first prevention course which eventually led to a specialized track for students to become an International Prevention Specialist.  From 1982 through 1997, ADS offered off-campus courses with funding from a grant through the South Dakota Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

The ADS Department at The University of South Dakota offers both a Bachelor’s degree in Addiction Studies on campus and online with specialization in either Prevention or Treatment and an online Master’s degree with an optional co-occurring specialization. It is the only program in the surrounding region to offer a four-year undergraduate degree and Master of Arts degree, which combines a strong academic foundation with a real-world experience in counseling and prevention (ADS, 2017)

Currently, the ADS Department continues to evolve by constantly updating, developing new courses, and incorporating technological advances into the classroom setting, utilizing newly-available coursework delivery methods. Although there have been many changes in the ADS Department over the years the original goal of providing quality education and nurturing individuals into well rounded addiction professionals remains the same.

A Brief Description of the NASAC Accreditation Process

 The Addiction Studies Department (ADS, 2017), then known as the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies Department, (ADAS) Bachelor’s degree, Bachelor’s certificate, and online certificate for SD certification, first became accredited through the International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education (INCASE, 2017) program approval process in 2006. This process consisted of five stages:  (1) initial application, (2) selection of an evaluation team, (3) preliminary self-study, (4) submission of the self-study portfolio, and  (5) site visit after all written documentation has been submitted and accepted by the evaluation team.  The application portfolio was arduous and very time consuming mainly because the information required was not in a centralized location.  The Department Chair, faculty, and the secretary worked collaboratively to gather all the information necessary for the preliminary self-study contents that involved seven domains:

  1. Mission and goals;
  2. Curriculum, including:
    • completion of the TAP 21 content grid,
    • how the curriculum meets other state and national standards, and
    • fulfillment of the INCASE curriculum standards;
  3. Educational modalities and resources;
  4. Faculty;
  5. Community support and articulation;
  6. Graduates; and
  7. Admission and guidelines.

All of the required materials were sent to INCASE and two site evaluators were selected for a two day site evaluation.  The site evaluation consisted of coordinating meetings with the Dean, Department Chair, faculty, focus group of students, and the advisory board.  Upon completion of the written documentation portfolio and the site visit a verbal report was given about recommendations for program improvements or modifications.  Within 30 days, one of three outcomes was reached: (1) tabling of the application, (2) conditional approval, or (3) full approval.  The ADAS Department received full approval with a re-certification of the program approval process after a period of five years.

The year 2010 brought about many changes.  INCASE merged with the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC, 2017) and created the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC, 2017).  The ADAS Department became the Addiction Studies Department (ADS, 2017) along with the inception of the online Master’s degree in Addiction Studies for accreditation.  There was a grandfathering period for programs that had been accredited through INCASE with a slight change in the NASAC accreditation renewal protocol.  The ADS Department needed to describe the addition of the online graduate degree, additional faculty, and changes in the curriculum but no site visit was necessary.  The ADS Department was successful for NASAC accreditation until 2013. The NASAC accreditation renewal was every three years rather than the INCASE five years with the most recent accreditation renewal in 2016. The ADS Department is currently accredited through NASAC until 2023. ADS will seek accreditation for a PhD in Health Sciences Addiction Studies degree for 2018.


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  4. ADS (2017). Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

John Korkow, PhD, LAC, SAP, received his PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of South Dakota in 2008. He completed an MA in Community Agency Counseling, and a BS in Addiction Studies, and has worked as an addiction counselor since 1999. He is treasurer and conference committee planning chair of SDAAPP, member of NAADAC, Past President of INCASE, and Chair of NASAC. He is currently an assistant professor in Addiction Studies at the University of South Dakota.

Mary Merrigan, Ed.D, LAC, MAC, LPC, CCTP, is currently an Assistant Professor in the Addiction Studies Dept. at the University of South Dakota. Merrigan is a Licensed Addiction Counselor, Master Addiction Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. With a clinical background in working with adults, children, adolescents, and young adults in social services and both inpatient and outpatient settings providing addiction and mental health counseling, trauma, crisis response services, and program development. Merrigan has 30 years of experience working in the addiction and mental health professions.

Diane Sevening, Ed.D, LAC, MAC, Assistant Professor at the University of South Dakota (USD) School of Health Sciences Addiction Studies (ADS) Department has 33 years of teaching experience. She has served as President of the South Dakota Board of Addiction and Prevention Professionals (BAPP), Treasurer of the International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education (INCASE), President-Elect of NAADAC, Chair of the Student Committee for NAADAC, evaluator for the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC), and member of the NASAC board of commissioners.

Frank Zavadil, MA, LAC, currently serves as the Department Chair for the Addiction Studies program at the University of South Dakota. His appointment to the position began in January 2014 and prior to this served as an adjunct instructor beginning in 2010. Zavadil has been working in the addiction field since 1984 in various capacities stemming from an addiction counselor, clinical supervisor, and program director. He currently has over 33 years of counseling, clinical supervision and administrative experiences in the addiction field and is also a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the State of South Dakota. Zavadil received both his Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from the University of South Dakota and is currently pursuing his doctorate in Adult and Higher Education.