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WVU joins WVSSAC in historic collaborative effort to fight state’s opioid epidemic

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WVUToday shared the following news release Tuesday (June 4) on behalf of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission:

WVSSAC launches historic collaborative effort to fight state’s opioid epidemic

West Virginia University, Marshall University, West Virginia Department of Education and MVB Bank Will Join the Fight

For Immediate Release: June 4, 2019

With West Virginia leading the nation in opioid related deaths, five of the state’s most influential institutions are joining with the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission to increase awareness of the issue and possible solutions. 

“We can no longer stand idly by and watch this terrible epidemic destroy our young people and tear our families apart,” WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the WVSSAC-MVB Bank Opioid Awareness Summit Presented by West Virginia University and Marshall University. 

In addition to the WVSSAC and corporate partner MVB Bank, the Summit’s partners in launching an historic collaborative effort to fight’s the state’s growing opioid epidemic include West Virginia University, Marshall University, the West Virginia Department of Education and the office of Gov. Jim Justice. 

Dolan announced on Tuesday that the Summit will consist of separate two-day meetings, the first on Sept. 17 at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown and the second on Sept. 18 at Marshall’s Cam Henderson Center in Huntington. 

This first-of-its-kind event will feature former NBA player Chris Herren, who was addicted to opioids, along with Rhonda Sciortino, who overcame abandonment, abuse, poverty, filth and hunger while growing up in an addictive household to build a life of affluence. In addition, negotiations are currently under way with other speakers who address the prevention aspect of fighting the opioid addiction. 

The Summit will serve as a kickoff to an extensive initiative focusing on prevention coupled with compassionate treatment programs and educational and employment opportunities. 

The prevention aspect is perhaps the most important component as it will center on West Virginia’s 150,000 middle school and high school students, both public and private. The state will be divided along Route 50, with 7,000 high school students north of Route 50 attending the Morgantown Summit and 7,000 students south of the highway attending the Huntington Summit. 

In addition, the events will be livestreamed to approximately 136,000 middle school and high school teens. In all, counting teachers, parents, siblings and all others who have contacts with students, it is hoped the Summit will reach more than 300,000 people. 

As part of the kickoff, a campaign titled “Be a Game Changer” will be initiated, along with “West Virginia Teens Are Changing the Game.” A website,, is being developed. Teens, along with every citizen in the state, will be asked to go to the website and become a game changer. Items such as posters, Game Changer T-shirts and stickers proclaiming “I’m A Game Changer” will be given away. 

The state’s teenagers will be encouraged to monitor the website and while doing so will have the opportunity to win game and gift cards and other items of interest to today’s teens. The entire Game Changer Program is currently being developed and will be up and running in conjunction with the beginning of the initiative in September. 

“I can’t begin to adequately thank Marshall University, West Virginia University, Dr. Steven Paine, Diana Whitlock and Susan Beck and the West Virginia Department of Education along with our corporate partner MVB Bank for helping us put together this collaborative event,” WVSSAC’s Dolan said. 

“In addition, because of our lack of knowledge regarding opioid addiction, this entire initiative wouldn’t even be possible without the guidance of all the prevention and addiction specialists and counselors around the state who have provide us with priceless guidance. People like Amy Saunders at Marshall and Frankie Tack and Cathy Yura at WVU not to mention Nikki Tennis and her staff of prevention specialists,” Dolan added. 

Both West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee and Marshall President Jerome A. Gilbert attended the news conference to support the effort and praised the initiative. 

“We have made battling the opioid epidemic a major focus across the West Virginia University system,” Gee said. “Programs and research are under way in essentially every college at the University, from medicine to psychology to counseling and beyond.

“Our young people are the future of this state and we have to do everything in our power to ensure they are given an opportunity to succeed,” he said.

Gilbert said he was interested in the concept of reaching kids earlier by providing prevention programs.  

“We feel this group can help complement many of the prevention efforts happening around the state,” he said. “School activities are a great protective factor that can be used to buffer against the negative effects felt by many youths who have been affected by substance misuse in their family.   

“At Marshall University, we have been working with partners over the past several years to tackle this issue which impact the very core values of West Virginia society,” Gilbert said. “The Summit will be a great kick-off event to launch the program and prevention efforts that will be coming over the next year. We look at this new initiative as a tremendous opportunity and are very happy to be a part of it.” 

West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools, Steven Paine also attended the news conference and offered his personal support, along with the support of the West Virginia Department of Education. 

“Today’s students face many social and economic challenges. The opioid crisis has hit West Virginia especially hard, and we must take every step possible to keep students safe and healthy so they can reach their highest potential,” Paine said. 

Pierpont Community and Technical College President Johnny Moore echoed Paine’s comments. 

“This is truly a chance for West Virginians throughout the state to change the game. This is truly a crisis and I know I speak for all by colleagues at the state’s community and technical colleges that this endeavor has our full support and I know we will work together to eliminate this terrible epidemic.”  

Don Robinson, executive vice president and chief financial officer for MVB Bank, said he has a vested interest in the success of this endeavor. 

“I have seven children under the age of 18, and it is important to me as a parent that we come together to address this issue affecting so many families. MVB Bank is a West Virginia-based company that cares very deeply about the state and the communities we serve, especially our young people. We are committed to being the WVSSAC’s trusted partner in this endeavor, and we hope that our involvement will inspire the entire West Virginia business community to become involved.” 

Former WVU Sports Information Director Joe Boczek, of JB Business Strategies in Morgantown who is coordinating the initiative for the WVSSAC, said he and educators and administrators will be traveling to every corner of the state to meet with businesses and corporate executives to seek participation and funding for the various programs that will ensure the long-term success of the initiative. 

“This issue personally has touched my family, and I am very aware what opioid addiction can do to young people, athletes and the family unit. The disease doesn’t discriminate. I am confident already with the talks I have had that the West Virginia corporate community will step up in a big way to ensure we are successful. Together, we are indeed going to ‘change the game.’” 

For more information or to become a corporate Game Changer contact:

Joe Boczek (304) 288-5924.