New style of partnership is next step in fighting opioid addiction, Virginia Tech says

Local groups like New River Valley Community Services could benefit

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

BLACKSBURG, Va. - A new style of partnership that brings Virginia universities together is the next step in fighting against the opioid addiction crisis, according to university leaders from around the commonwealth.

The University of Virginia announced Tuesday that it's leading a group of five universities, including Virginia Tech, in forming a consortium, which will work with a state agency to provide more resources to local grassroots groups.

Funding comes from a federal grant, but Virginia will handle the implementation. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services will coordinate with the newly-formed group, which is called the Virginia Higher Education Opioid Consortium, or VHEOC, Virginia Tech leaders said Tuesday.

They told 10 News that the initiative will help local groups with program evaluation, technical assistance, extra staffing and more.

"It's a way to provide to them expertise at the university in a more coordinated way and to have it paid for so that they get their needs met and we're able to contribute to what they're doing," said Dr. Kathy Hosig, director of the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research.

The partnership can help groups communicate with one another, furthering the idea of creating a continuum of care -- treating addiction from multiple angles.

"The ones in more remote areas, more rural areas, particularly haven't had access to some of the technical assistance and research services that can be provided," said Mary Beth Dunkenberger, associate director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance

The schools aren't aware of other examples of this kind of partnership. They formed the idea at a meeting in Blacksburg in May of 2018.

"It's really exciting that we all just got together and had this idea and made it up and it happened," Hosig said.

Groups can start making requests in the next month or two, she said. The organizations can request service and pick which university can help them the best.

"Virginia's universities recognize that they have a role to play in helping communities across Virginia to build awareness for -- and support prevention and treatment of -- substance use disorders including opioid addiction," said Dr. David Driscoll, assistant dean of research and the director of the Office of Research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

One of the many groups that will be receiving these extra resources to help people in their battle against addiction is New River Valley Community Services.

The center helps with prevention and treatment, serving both children and adults. It's trying to help as many people as possible. 

"One of the biggest challenges is just capacity, to get people who have need for treatment and service actually into services," said Mike Wade, the New River Valley Community Services Communications & Outreach Coordinator.

NRVCS helps 13,000 people each year, Wade said, and has seen an increase in the last year in people wanting substance abuse treatment.

"Having a continuance of partnership that we have with Virginia Tech is a huge asset for our community," Wade said. "Any additional funding or support for that is obviously a step in the right direction."

Virginia Tech faculty noted that the infrastructure and lines of communication established by the initiative will be beneficial not just for action related to opioids, but for addiction response to all drugs as time moves forward.

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