WVU research team receives $ 1.3 million grant to reduce impact of addiction
MORGANTOWN, West Virginia – A team of researchers from the University of West Virginia has received a $ 1.35 million grant over three years to reduce the impact of drug addiction in three West Virginia counties.
The Appalachian Regional Commission funds the grant. The work will focus on McDowell, Mercer and Wyoming counties, all of which have high rates of HIV, hepatitis B and C from injecting drugs. The project, known as the POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) initiative, aims to help find employment for people who previously injected drugs and are coming to regions ruined by job losses. Dr Gordon Smith, an epidemiologist at the WVU School of Public Health, is one of the researchers, and he said he and his colleagues were grateful for the funding.
We are so grateful. It’s an interesting outcome. We’ve been working for 2.5-3 years now in those counties, working, trying to figure out the problem, trying to figure out what’s needed, and that’s really one of the roles, really, of a grant university in land to focus on how we can help these most devastated parts of the state. And so we’re excited to be able to put all the planning and ideas that we’ve had to develop this and to actually be able to implement it.
Dr Gordon Smith
Smith said that an important part of the POWER initiative will be to control infections linked to drug use over the next three years. This will be achieved in particular by working with the Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center, which provides services in the counties. Smith described them as “one of the state’s role models” of how drug treatment is supposed to be carried out.
Another important contributor to the initiative will be the state-certified peer navigator / recovery coach. They are recovering people, which means they have lived the experience and can communicate better with people with substance abuse disorders.
These peer navigators, said Smith, will be essential as they will be the ones who go into the community, identify people and bring them into the program. He said they would do it through encouragement and their ability to understand the plight of those struggling with drug addiction.
“It’s not just about dropping them off at the clinic door and saying ‘my job is well done’ – no, it isn’t,” Smith said. “The most important thing is that they then follow these people during the treatment. If someone misses an appointment for treatment with us, gets their prescription refilled, then we work with them. Peer navigators, to get out and bring people back, find out what happened. They might have run out of money; they lost their ID card, or whatever, and we’re trying to help treat the whole person. And then also once these people find a job, it comes down to providing coaching and navigation on how they can manage and keep the new job.
Smith said the goal is to find jobs for 15 to 25 people in each of the three years. Obviously, he said, there will be a lot more people who will be approached but not be able to complete the program.
Although he knows he is not pessimistic as he recognizes the ability to help many people in the area. Also, he said, this is a great opportunity to partner with other great organizations with a similar goal in mind, helping to reverse the economic damage of drug addiction in West Virginia.
“We are just grateful to the Appalachian Regional Commission for giving us this opportunity to collaborate,” said Smith. “We see this as a great collaboration between the university, a land grant university and one of the leading providers of mental health and addiction therapy in the region. This is the Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center, which has its main offices in Princeton. And so we think it’s a great collaboration and a great model for how we can collaborate and work together. “