With the help of a $1 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services award, the WVU Institute for Community and Rural Health will continue fighting opioid crisis in West Virginia.

This project, known as the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, was brought to West Virginia in order to help those suffering from addiction in Calhoun, Gilmer, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Jackson and Tyler counties, according to a WVUToday article.

“It is really focused on direct services for prevention, treatment and recovery,” said Brianna Sheppard, the programs principal investigator.

One of the main goals of the program is to train primary health care providers on how to care for patients with substance abuse disorder.

According to Christie Zachary, program coordinator for WVU Institute for Community and Rural Health, the lack of availability to medical assistance has only created further problems for residents of rural areas.

“There are only so many clinics that can take care of folks like that,” Zachary said. “They are really trying to get primary care physicians to be able to do that.”

These physicians will be able to not only prescribe substance abuse agonist medications, but also will be trained in behavioral medicine, which adds a counseling style-approach following the administration of medication. Zachary said bridging this gap between family and behavioral medicine is key in helping those in need.

“Just prescribing doesn’t work, and just counseling doesn’t work,” Zachary said. “You usually have to have an emergence of the two.”

Providing emergency services and a quick recovery program goes hand in hand with the training aspect of the program.

“In rural areas it makes it harder to get access to those resources,” Sheppard said. “If you need an ambulance it takes longer for those people to get there to you, so it takes you longer to get to an emergency medical department.”

When all parts of the program are put into motion, Sheppard said this will allow emergency vehicles to work more efficiently to reach people in rural areas, staff will be trained on how to reverse overdose, and then peer-recovery specialists will be able to discuss with the patient ways to combat their own addiction as well as programs available to them.

Alongside the program’s plans to treat addiction, they also have plans to help those recovering maintain healthy lifestyles.

“On the recovery side it is helping people to get to some kind of normal, so assistance with job placement, use of peer-recovery specialists, and really helping folks at the community level decide what recovery looks like for them,” Sheppard said.

While trying to encourage prevention in those susceptible to addiction, Zachary added a big part of the educational facet of the program comes from changing the community’s outlook on those who are dealing with these disorders.

“With prevention I think education is definitely key,” Zachary said. “It is about cultural change and changing people’s mindset about addiction because it really is a disease.”

Many groups have partnered with the university, including Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, Minnie Hamilton Health System, Westbrook Health Services, Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center and the Mid-Ohio Valley Rural Health Alliance in what Sheppard called a collaborative effort.

“People who live outside the state especially have a, to me, very skewed view of West Virginians and West Virginia communities,” Zachary said. “Being here and growing up here, I know what we see on the national news is not true. Just being able to let folks here in the state know that somebody cares about them… and that they are worth saving.”